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Turning 26 Soon? Start Birthday Shopping for Health Insurance Now!

October 7, 2014
Dr. Nancy C. Lee

Celebrate your 26th birthday with affordable health coverage. Special enrollment. Healthcare.govWere you — or was someone you love — born in late 1988? Start planning for your birthday now!

That's the message I shared several times with my son, who turned 26 in August. Why? Because turning 26 meant he could no longer be covered under my health insurance plan.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, young adults under 26 have the option to stay on their parents' insurance plans. For my son and me, this was a great benefit. I got to rest easy knowing he had access to preventive and emergency care, and it gave him the freedom to pursue a job based on his passion and not on its insurance benefits.

What happens when you turn 26? You're responsible for signing up for your own coverage. Some young adults have access to job-based plans, while others, like my son, do not. That's when you turn to the Health Insurance Marketplace.

If you turn 26 outside an Open Enrollment period, don't worry. You can still get covered! Life events — like turning 26 — mean you may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. Some other qualifying life events include getting married, having a baby, or moving to a new state.

If you're wondering whether there's a catch, the answer is no — you just have to make the time to use the Marketplace. That's the part that was a struggle for my son. Despite multiple attempts on my part, my 26-year-old (who can procrastinate with the best of them) waited until three days before his birthday to sign up for coverage.

The good news is that he found a great plan with monthly premiums he can afford. The bad news is that the insurance didn't go into effect until October 1. So he was uninsured for a month and a half! Cue for my anxiety. Fortunately he made it to October 1 without needing health insurance. I had a big sigh of relief that morning!

That's why I want to spread the message to young adults and their parents that it takes time for a new plan to go into effect. Shopping for new insurance isn't like buying something from an online retailer. It doesn't go into effect immediately, so start as early as possible. If it's 60 days before (or after) your birthday, you can start your application.

For all of you who are on your parents' insurance plan, I encourage you to be proactive about getting covered before your 26th birthday. Your parents cannot enroll for you. It takes time to find the plan that's best for you, and going without insurance is a risky option. Insurance helps you stay well and helps you if you become ill or injured. Stay healthy and hang on to your savings by getting covered! Find out if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period by watching this video. For parents like me, remind your soon-to-be 26-year-old not to wait until their birthday.

Tell us about your experience purchasing your own health insurance for the first time below.