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Here’s What New High School or College Graduates (and Their Parents) Should Know About Health Insurance Options

Here’s What New High School or College Graduates (and Their Parents) Should Know About Health Insurance Options
  • Recent graduates have several options for getting health insurance, including staying on a parent’s health plan or enrolling in Medicaid or a marketplace plan

  • Young adults are among the most likely to be uninsured, and more needs to be done to help them get health care coverage

New graduates are transitioning into college or the workforce during a global pandemic and severe economic downturn. For many, this will be the first time in their lives they will need to even consider health insurance. Here’s what recent graduates should know about their options.

High School Graduates Who Had Insurance Prior to Graduation

High school graduates who are currently covered by a parent’s health plan will be able to remain on that plan until they turn 26, even if they do not live with their parents or are financially independent from them. (Parents and young adults who have lost jobs and job-based coverage because of the pandemic should follow these steps.)

High school graduates who were eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as children but are now over 18 have a few options:

  • Graduates who live in one of the 35 states (or D.C.)1 that has expanded Medicaid may be eligible for the program as an adult if their monthly income falls below 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($1,467). To determine eligibility for Medicaid coverage, young adults may apply through their state’s Medicaid agency.
  • Graduates with income that exceeds Medicaid eligibility or those in one of the 15 states that have not expanded Medicaid may qualify for coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces under a special-enrollment period. Subsidies are available for people with annual incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($49,960 for an individual and $103,000 for a family of four). For parents who plan on claiming their graduate as a dependent for 2020 taxes, household income will determine eligibility for subsidies. To determine eligibility, go to, enter your ZIP code, and click “See if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.”

High school graduates who plan to attend college in the fall will likely have a school requirement to have health insurance. The same above options apply; in addition, most schools offer student health insurance plans.

Coverage Options for College Graduates Who Had Insurance Prior to Graduation

Recent college graduates who have coverage through student plans should check to see when it expires. Once it does, they should consider:

  • Transitioning to a parent’s plan. Young adults can remain on a parent’s plan until age 26. This is true even if they are financially independent from their parents, do not live with them, are married, or have a child.
  • Purchasing a plan on the marketplace. Young adults who are no longer eligible for a student health plan or a parent’s plan — because they graduate or age out — qualify for a special-enrollment period on the ACA marketplaces.
  • Medicaid eligibility. Graduates who were enrolled in Medicaid during college and whose income has not changed are likely still eligible for Medicaid coverage if they live in one of the 35 states (or D.C.) that expanded the program under the ACA.
  • Job-based coverage. Graduates who need an interim plan before employer-sponsored coverage begins can determine if they are eligible for Medicaid or for purchasing a plan through the marketplaces. Determining marketplace coverage eligibility will require grads to include expected 2020 annual income.

High School and College Graduates Who Were Uninsured Prior to Graduation

Young adults who were uninsured before graduation can follow the steps outlined above to see if they are eligible for Medicaid or coverage on the health insurance marketplaces. Moving to a different state after graduation is considered a qualifying life event and may make new grads eligible for a special-enrollment period. Additionally, there are still six states that have special-enrollment periods because of COVID-19. The special enrollment periods in Maryland, New York, and Vermont end June 15; in Massachusetts on June 23; and in California and D.C. on June 30 and September 15, respectively.


1 Nebraska plans to implement Medicaid expansion on October 1, 2020. It is not included in the total number of expansion states.

Publication Details



Gabriella N. Aboulafia, Former Program Assistant, Health Care Coverage and Access


Gabriella N. Aboulafia and Sara R. Collins, “Here’s What New High School or College Graduates (and Their Parents) Should Know About Health Insurance Options,” To the Point (blog), Commonwealth Fund, June 9, 2020.