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Health insurance after 26

Is turning 26 a qualifying life event?

This article was last updated Nov. 3, 2023.

If your 26th birthday is approaching and you’re still covered by your parent's health plan, you may have questions about how to get a health insurance plan after you turn 26. Let us help you get started.

Health insurance questions when you turn 26

Know the answers to these commonly asked questions so you can avoid a gap in your health insurance coverage.

Is turning 26 a qualifying life event?

If you're still on your parent's health insurance plan, turning 26 may cause you to lose coverage. Turning 26 is a qualifying life event and means you can sign up for coverage, even if it’s not during an Open Enrollment Period. This is known as a special enrollment period.

Your special enrollment period differs based on your plan. Make sure to check your coverage documents to confirm your plan’s life events and special enrollment periods. If you don’t enroll during your special enrollment period, you’ll need to wait for the next Open Enrollment Period and may have a gap in health insurance coverage.

The Open Enrollment Period for individual coverage runs Nov. 1–Jan. 15 each year. If you plan to enroll in an employer-sponsored health plan, the Open Enrollment Period varies depending on the company.

What are my health insurance options when I turn 26?

If you’re about to lose coverage due to aging off your parent's plan, don’t worry. Depending on your personal situation, you may have a few different options for coverage. Read on to learn about the different types of health coverage and details about health insurance.

  1. Individual coverage
  2. Individual health insurance is purchased through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace®. If you buy a plan through the Marketplace, you may be eligible for subsidies External Site. These subsidies help you pay your monthly premium and are based on your annual income, among other factors.

    To learn more about the individual coverage option, contact your agent. If you’d like to find a Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield representative near you, you can find an agent here Opens New Window.

    Compare individual health plans

    Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield has a variety of health insurance plans for individuals to fit your unique needs. You can enroll during open enrollment (Nov. 1–Jan. 15 annually) or during your special enrollment period before and after turning 26.

  3. Employer-sponsored (Group) coverage
  4. When an employer offers health insurance to its employees, it’s called employer-sponsored — or group — coverage. With group coverage, the employer typically shares the cost of the monthly premium with its employees. You have a set time of the year to enroll, add dependents or make changes to your plan. Reach out to your employer for information about your eligibility and coverage options.

  5. Government-sponsored coverage, like Medicaid or TRICARE
  6. Based on your income and family size, you may qualify for free or low-cost health coverage through Medicaid. To find out if you’re eligible, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website External Site.

    TRICARE is a health care program for service members, retirees and their families. To find out if you’re eligible, visit the TRICARE website External Site.

  7. Student coverage
  8. Some universities offer health plans that students may purchase if being on their family’s plan isn’t an option. The benefits can vary greatly among these types of student health plans. It’s a good idea to check to see what is covered before signing up.

Do I lose health insurance the day I turn 26, or is there a grace period?

Different health insurance carriers have different rules for when you lose coverage after turning 26, so it's important to check your parent's benefits document or talk to their employer to know for sure.

What if I’m under 26 and experience a life event? Can I stay on my parent's plan?

Even if you’ve experienced another life event, such as marriage, birth of a child, adoption of a child or have employer-sponsored coverage available to you, you have the option of staying on your parent's plan until you turn 26.

Is there a penalty for not enrolling in health insurance when I turn 26?

No, there is no longer a federal tax penalty for not having health coverage. However, some states have their own individual health insurance mandates.

While you may not be charged a penalty for not having health insurance, having continuous coverage can help you save money in the future. Even if you’re relatively healthy right now, health insurance provides financial protection. In the event that your health changes, a health plan protects you from high, unexpected medical costs.

Wellmark is here to help you with your health insurance questions

Choosing a new health insurance plan can feel overwhelming and everyone's needs are different. For more help determining the plans available to you and the best ones to fit your budget and lifestyle, contact your authorized Wellmark agent Opens New Window. If health insurance is available to you through your job, talk to your HR benefits administrator.