Few challenges in life compare to the uncertainty of facing unemployment. If the financial stress of losing your job wasn’t enough, you’ll also lose access to any benefits you may have received from an employer such as health insurance. Without a reliable income source, paying for an individual health insurance plan may seem entirely unfeasible.
But it doesn’t have to be. There are many insurance options available to those facing unemployment, although you need to act fast. Losing your job qualifies you for a special enrollment period in the health insurance marketplace regulated by the U.S. government, but it only lasts 60 days. You can also purchase private health insurance that sometimes offers more flexibility than standard coverage. For example, short-term policies lasting up to one year are available in many states.
Of course, there’s always the option to elect COBRA coverage, which means paying the full cost of your former employer’s health insurance policy. However, COBRA premiums tend to run very high compared to other options.
To find the best health insurance for unemployment, we looked at policies from 30 insurance companies across the country. After thoroughly evaluating coverage options, pricing, flexibility, and benefits, we’ve identified the seven best providers to stay insured while you look for your next job.
The 7 Best Health Insurance for Unemployed of 2020
Best Overall: Sidecar Health
Sidecar Health’s low-cost, no-commitment health insurance is flexible and affordable, making it the best overall for unemployed individuals.
Available in all states
Low monthly premiums
Visit any provider
Advanced digital tools
Enroll and cancel at any time
Doesn’t cover maternity care
Complicated claim process
Fourteen-day waiting period from enrollment
Sidecar Health, founded in 2018, is bringing innovation to health insurance with a totally reinvented approach to getting coverage. Instead of showing an insurance card at your doctor’s office, Sidecar Health sends you a payment card that is used to pay for your visit in cash. Since you’re effectively paying out of pocket using the plan benefits, you can visit any doctor without being limited to a provider network. Unlike traditional insurance, you can sign up for coverage at any time; there are no open enrollment periods to worry about.
Plans can be purchased online or through the Sidecar Health smartphone app using a quick and easy application form. From there, you’re given the option to purchase one of three pre-configured policies or choose your own custom coverage. Most plans come with a $0 deductible by default, although you can set a deductible up to $1,000 to reduce monthly payments. Premiums start at $179 per month for a 35-year-old adult.
Unfortunately, Sidecar Health won’t be an option if you or anyone in your family is expecting a child, as maternity care isn’t covered. You should also know that the process for getting care is a bit more tedious than you might be used to with standard health coverage. Your Sidecar Health card will only cover a set dollar amount for each treatment. Since each doctor sets their own out-of-pocket pricing, you’ll need to call around and ask for cost information before scheduling an appointment. Thankfully, the Sidecar Health smartphone app includes a price comparison tool that makes things a bit easier.
Best Short-Term Coverage: The IHC Group
If you need to fill a temporary gap between employer-sponsored health insurance, The IHC Group’s short-term plans are the best way to stay covered for up to a year.
Flexible terms up to 364 days
Coverage starts under $100 per month
Includes $2 million in annual benefits
Options to add auxiliary coverage
High deductibles and copays
Not available in 12 states
Limited coverage options
If you’re currently unemployed but know you’ll have health insurance again in the next year, a short-term plan may be the best option. The IHC Group offers short-term insurance that can be purchased in a bind with coverage effective the following day, making this company our best for short-term coverage. Just keep in mind that short-term policies aren’t ACA-compliant, meaning federally mandated no-cost preventive care isn’t covered and you can be denied based on your medical history.
The IHC Group’s short-term medical policies start between $50 and $100 for a 35-year-old adult in most states, although coverage can be purchased for dependents as well. You’ll also have the option to add coverage for dental, vision, prescriptions, and telehealth with riders that start around $25 per month. The only downside is that policy terms are somewhat rigid. Just three deductibles are available in amounts of $2,500, $5,000, and $10,000, and there’s no option to change the default $2 million annual benefit.
Short-term insurance is regulated by state law, so coverage options vary depending on where you reside. The IHC Group is currently unavailable to offer short-term policies in 12 states due to local regulations.
Best Catastrophic Coverage: BlueCross BlueShield
BlueCross BlueShield’s catastrophic policies are the best catastrophic coverage in our review because they're the most economical option for unemployed individuals who can’t afford standard health insurance.
Plans available in all 50 states
Offers a dedicated plan for adults under 30
Large provider network
Good customer satisfaction ratings
Coverage options vary across 36 regional companies
Only covers federally required minimum care
Certain unemployed individuals qualify for low-cost catastrophic coverage, particularly those under 30 years old and some low-income households. If you fall into the former category, you may be interested in BlueCross BlueShield’s Young Adult plan, a policy designed for individuals age 18 to 30 who couldn’t otherwise afford insurance. The plan is certainly affordable; in some states, we were given quotes up to 30% cheaper than any other catastrophic insurance policy.
Since BlueCross BlueShield is divided into 36 independent companies across the United States, catastrophic coverage is offered under several different names depending on your region. Policies terms also vary by location, although they all share the common characteristics of catastrophic insurance: low premiums, high deductibles, and free access to preventive medicine required by the Affordable Care Act.
Catastrophic policies offered by BlueCross BlueShield can be either HMO or PPO depending on the state, but even if you do need to stay in-network, know that the BlueCross BlueShield provider network is one of the largest in the country. The insurer also gets good ratings for customer experience, with a four-star overall score in the health insurance marketplace at HealthCare.gov.
Best for Telehealth: Cigna
All Cigna individual health insurance plans include free access to two of the largest virtual care networks in the United States, making Cigna our choice as best for telehealth.
All individual plans include $0 virtual care
Partners with two major telehealth networks
$25 monthly copay limit on insulin
Offers 24/7 customer service
Dental coverage starts at $19 per month
Individual plans only available in 10 states
Policies must begin on the first day of the month
Access to telehealth services can be a lifesaver for anyone dealing with unemployment. Not only does virtual care save you the time and cost of getting to a doctor’s office, but you can also even get remote treatment for some minor ailments without having to pay for an in-person visit. Cigna includes $0 telehealth visits with all of its individual plans through partnerships with MDLive and Amwell, two of the largest telemedicine providers in the United States.
Virtual health visits aren’t the only advantage to purchasing health insurance from Cigna. In-house customer service is available 24 hours a day to answer questions and provide assistance. The company also places a $25 monthly out-of-pocket cost limit on insulin regardless of your coverage level.
Unfortunately, individual and family policies are only available from Cigna in 10 states, although dental insurance can be purchased anywhere in the U.S. for as little as $19 per month. While health insurance premiums depend on many different factors, Cigna was priced a bit above average when we compared sample quotes with competitors.
Best for Families: Oscar
Oscar offers the best value for family health insurance that won’t eat up your savings fund while you’re unemployed.
Cap on family deductibles
Eligible for tax credits
Fully functional smartphone app
Free concierge and virtual visits
Pays up to $100 per year for step tracking
Available in 19 states
Smaller provider network
Doesn’t pay for out-of-network care
When you become unemployed and lose company-sponsored health insurance, your dependents will also be dropped from coverage. For large families, the cost of maintaining insurance during periods of unemployment can be astronomical. Thankfully, Oscar offers a few options to help reduce costs. The insurer’s plans are eligible for tax credits that can significantly reduce your monthly premiums if your income is less than four times the federal poverty level. Policies also include a cap on family deductibles; your overall deductible will never exceed twice the individual deductible no matter how large your household is. For these reasons and more, we selected Oscar as best for families of all the providers we reviewed.
Coverage is easy to purchase online or by downloading the Oscar smartphone app, which includes a few additional perks. Use the app to get virtual care or contact the free concierge service staffed by experts who can help you schedule appointments and refill prescriptions. If you sync the app with your smartphone’s step counter, you’ll earn a dollar for every day that you meet your step goal up to $100 per year.
While Oscar is rapidly expanding, coverage is only available in 19 states for now. You may also find that the provider network is smaller than what you had with your previous insurer. Note that Oscar does not pay for out-of-network visits except in emergencies, so if your current doctor isn’t listed, you’ll need to find a new provider.
Best With Dental: Ambetter
Most Ambetter plans can be supplemented with dental insurance starting at just $12 per month, a better deal than any other insurer, and our choice as best with dental.
Dental coverage available with most plans for as little as $12
Offers a healthy living rewards program
Operates a 24/7 nurse advice line
Limited to 18 states
Lack of digital tools
Strict late payment terms
Unemployed individuals often find themselves having to purchase separate dental insurance or forego it entirely. With Ambetter, you can add dental and vision coverage to most policies for around $12 per month. Coverage can be purchased on the marketplace and is surprisingly affordable; in our test markets, Ambetter was consistently in the top three cheapest insurers.
In addition to low-cost dental coverage, some of the benefits you’ll enjoy with Ambetter include a 24-hour nurse advice line and a healthy living rewards program. Through the program, you’ll be rewarded for positive habits like getting a flu shot and watching educational videos. The rewards you earn have a dollar value that can be put toward your premiums or used to pay for utilities, rent, childcare, and more.
Like many health insurers, Ambetter only offers coverage in certain geographic areas, with 18 states currently served. The company’s digital tools also fall a bit short compared to competitors with a slightly outdated web portal and no mobile app. If you do sign up for a policy, make sure you can afford the premiums; the company has a strict late payment policy and will cancel your coverage if you fall more than 30 days behind.
Best Provider Network: UnitedHealthcare
Thanks to UnitedHealthcare’s expansive provider network, you’ll never be far from the care you need.
Works with more than 1.3 million doctors and 6,000 hospitals
Good variety of plan types
Save by bundling coverage
No special enrollment period for some policies
Not available in New York
Coverage only available for up to three years
If you have to switch health insurers due to unemployment, you may be concerned about your current doctor not accepting your new insurance. With UnitedHealthcare’s network of over 1.3 million physicians and 6,000 hospitals in the U.S., there’s a good chance you won’t have to. UnitedHealthcare offers individual plans in every state except for New York and is the largest health insurance provider in the country, making it an easy choice for best provider network in our review.
There are a dozen different individual and family UnitedHealthcare policies to choose from. Plans are geared toward those who are facing unemployment or simply don’t need insurance for an extended period of time. Full health coverage is only available for a maximum term of three years through the TriTerm program, a plan that is designed to offer a more prolonged solution than traditional short-term insurance. You may be able to get a discount by combining a health plan with supplemental coverage like dental or vision.
The only real downside to UnitedHealthcare is that premiums tend to be higher than competitors for most types of coverage. However, the company’s TriTerm plan may be cheaper than full health coverage while you’re looking for work and can be a great solution as long as you don’t need it for more than three years.
How Do I Get Health Insurance if I Lose My Job?
There are many ways to get health insurance if you lose your job. The first is COBRA, which allows you to keep your same insurance plan but can be expensive. Becoming unemployed also qualifies you for a special enrollment period, which means you can purchase any new insurance policy for up to 60 days after you lose your job. In some states, short-term health coverage is an affordable option that can keep you insured for up to a year while you look for new work.
What Is COBRA Insurance and Is It Worth It?
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, commonly known as COBRA, is a federally mandated program through which you can retain your employer's policy for up to 18 months. If you do elect COBRA coverage, be prepared to pay significantly higher monthly premiums; you’ll be required to cover the amount your employer was contributing plus a 2% administration fee. Oftentimes COBRA isn’t worth it, as most unemployed individuals can find a much more affordable policy on the marketplace.
What Is the Cheapest Health Insurance?
Short-term and catastrophic coverage plans are usually the cheapest health insurance options for anyone who has recently lost their job. However, there are downsides to both. Short-term coverage only lasts for up to one year and is banned or restricted in some states. You’ll need to be under 30 years old or meet low-income requirements to qualify for catastrophic coverage, and even if you do, those low premiums come at the expense of extremely high deductibles.
What Do You Do If You Don’t Have Health Insurance?
If you find yourself without health insurance and need medical attention, you should be prepared to pay full out-of-pocket costs for any treatment you receive. In case of an emergency, U.S. law prohibits hospitals from refusing treatment due to your financial situation. However, if you are truly unable to afford coverage, you should see if you qualify for insurance through Medicaid. Those who don’t meet Medicaid requirements should at least consider purchasing a low-cost catastrophic plan to protect you financially in case of serious injury or illness.
How We Chose the Best Health Insurance for the Unemployed
Our analysis looked at 30 health insurers nationwide to identify the best companies based on the benefits they offer to those facing unemployment. We chose insurers with widespread geographic representation who provide flexible policies geared toward individuals with short-term insurance needs. Since financial strain is a main concern during periods of unemployment, we weighed policy pricing heavily by comparing quotes from five sample markets. Finally, we evaluated accessibility to care, including the number of in-network providers and the availability of telehealth services.