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Buying health insurance when you turn 26

Children and young adults can stay on their parents' health insurance plans until they turn 26. Then, they have to navigate the world of insurance on their own. If you're close to that age, it's time to start looking at your options for coverage. You'll want to plan ahead to know what to enroll in, as well as when and how to enroll.

Coverage options at 26

You have options for health insurance when you turn 26, including an employer-sponsored plan or an individual plan through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC). You may also qualify for Medicaid or for a spouse or domestic partner's plan. Many people who apply for individual insurance qualify for lower costs based on their income. This is called a health insurance subsidy.

There is one exception to the age limit: Children who cannot care for themselves because of a physical or intellectual disability that started before the age of 26 can stay on their parents' health insurance.

Timing your enrollment

When it comes to your enrollment, the timing will vary by the type of insurance your parents have. If your parents buy their health insurance through Blue Cross NC or the Health Insurance Marketplace, you can stay on their plan through December 31 of the year you turn 26. During open enrollment of the year you turn 26, you'll want to enroll in a plan through your job, your spouse's or domestic partner's job, or through Blue Cross NC. This period usually begins in October. That coverage will begin January 1 of the following year. This prevents you from having a gap in health coverage.

If your parents have health insurance from an employer-sponsored plan, you may lose coverage at the end of the month you turn 26. You'll need to enroll in a plan during a special enrollment period. You have between 60 days before and 60 days after your coverage ends to sign up for a health insurance plan or Medicaid.

How to enroll

For individual plans, you can shop our Blue Cross NC website or explore the Health Insurance Marketplace for a list of plans in your area and subsidies available to you.

You can also check if you are eligible for Medicaid. People who are pregnant, have children or have a disability may qualify.

If you plan to sign up for coverage through your or your partner's employer, talk to their human resources department before you turn 26. They can answer questions about available plans and special enrollment periods.

Aging out of health insurance and managing your own care for the first time can be daunting. There's a lot to learn about the costs of different plans and how to use your benefits. If you have more questions, call us at 800-324-4973 or visit one of our locations.

Patricia Chaney

Patricia Chaney


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