How can I get health insurance if I'm a part-time employee?

Here are your options if your job doesn't provide health insurance coverage.

Part time barista with no health insurance coverage

Working part time can be a pain for a whole host of reasons. A big one is many companies don't provide part-time employees the same benefits as full-time staffers.

Of course, it's one thing to miss out on perks like paid vacations, holidays, or sick leave. It's quite another to miss out on health insurance.

A study by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 85 percent of full-time workers have access to health insurance compared to only 24 percent of part-time workers.

Unfortunately, federal regulations don't require U.S. employers to make these and other benefits available to part-time employees. A handful do anyway, but most don't.

What can you do if you work part time and your job doesn't offer health coverage? Here are your options:

  1. See if your spouse's or partner's health insurance can cover you.

    If you're married to someone with a full-time job, he or she may be your ticket to health coverage. That's because most American companies and organizations offer health insurance to their employees' significant others.

    What if you're in a domestic partnership? Don't fret. Many job-based health plans cover domestic partners, too.

    Keep in mind that some companies force employees to jump through hoops before they'll cover spouses or partners. For example, you may have to prove you've lived together for a certain amount of time.

    Also, don't be surprised if your out-of-pocket costs are higher than expected based on what your spouse or partner currently pays. Employers usually pay a smaller portion of the premiums for spouses than they do for employees, which could mean higher monthly premiums for the both of you.
  2. Check out the federal health insurance marketplace or one of the state exchanges.

    Are you single? Or are you in a relationship but not married or in a domestic partnership? Or maybe you're married but your spouse's health plan doesn't cover you?

    If you can answer "yes" to one of those questions, take a look at the federal health insurance marketplace or one of the state exchanges. You should also learn about the best and worst health insurance exchanges.

    Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, almost any American can buy health insurance through these websites. Also, they offer enrollees tax credits and other savings if their incomes are low enough or their households are large enough.

    To find out if you're eligible for a discount, fill out an application on healthcare.gov or on your state exchange's site. Go here to see if you need to use a state site instead of the federal marketplace.

    That application also will let you know if you or your family qualify for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). (Learn more about health insurance for children.)

    Note: the next open enrollment period for Affordable Care Act coverage starts on Nov. 1, 2017, and ends on Dec. 15, 2017. Outside of that window, you can only apply for a marketplace plan if you qualify for a special enrollment period.
  3. Try to get a job at a place like Costco, Starbucks, or Whole Foods.

    The three U.S. companies mentioned above are among the handful that make health insurance available to part-time as well as full-time staffers. Other companies do the same to varying degrees:
    • Caribou Coffee
    • Lands' End
    • Lowe’s
    • Nike
    • REI
    • Staples
    • U-Haul
    • UPS
    Corporate giants Target and Walmart used to offer people who worked less than 30 hours a week health insurance. Target stopped covering its part-time employees in early 2014, however. Walmart pulled the plug on the practice later that same year.

    Admittedly, finding a job at one of these companies may be easier said than done. If you don't have a spouse or partner with health insurance that'll cover you, though, or if you find marketplace plans cost too much, it may be your best--or only--option.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Aren't U.S. employers required by law to provide health insurance to part-time employees?

A: Unfortunately, no, they aren't. No federal regulations force American companies to offer health plans to part-time workers. The Affordable Care Act also doesn’t require this.

In fact, U.S. employers don't have to provide health insurance to any of their employees--whether they work full or part time. Most do, though, to attract and retain quality staffers.

One exception to the above: companies in Hawaii. State law requires employers there to offer coverage to eligible employees who work 20 or more hours per week.

Q: Do I have to take advantage of job-based insurance if it's offered to me? Can I still buy a marketplace plan if I turn down my employer's coverage?

A: You can pass on job-based coverage and still get insurance from the federal marketplace or a state exchange.

Think twice before doing this, though. First, most companies pay part of their employee's monthly premiums. You won't get that if you decline job-based coverage.

Second, turning down an employer plan may keep you from receiving premium tax credits or other savings through the marketplace. In other words, expect to pay full price for a marketplace plan in this case.

Q: Can I drop my job-based health plan and buy a marketplace plan instead?

A: Yes. The situation basically is the same as the one discussed above. Dropping the insurance provided by your employer, however, might make you ineligible for a marketplace subsidy.

Q: What if my spouse has health insurance through a job and I refuse its coverage?

A: You can still enroll in a plan through the marketplace if the insurance your spouse or partner gets through work offers to cover you but you pass on it. But you may not qualify for premium tax credits or other kinds of savings.

Whether or not you qualify for some sort of discount in this situation depends on if:

  • the job-based plan offered to you is considered affordable
  • the plan meets certain minimum value standards

What does "affordable" mean in this case? According to healthcare.gov, a job-based health plan is affordable "if your share of the monthly premiums for the lowest-cost self-only coverage that meets the minimum value standard is less than 9.69 percent of your household income."

Also, most job-based health plans meet the "minimum value standard" if they pay at least 60 percent of covered medical costs. (With you paying the other 40 percent.)

Most job-based plans meet the minimum value standard, so your best bet of earning a tax credit here is to hope the government declares your spouse's or partner's insurance unaffordable.

Q: What if my employer offers health insurance to part-time employees but I can't afford it?

A: The short answer here is you can buy a marketplace plan.

However, don't give up on your employer's plan too quickly. One positive aspect of Obamacare is it incentivizes companies to offer employees affordable health insurance.

So, ask the person in charge of human resources at your company if there are cheaper coverage options. If there are, go with one of them before you head to the marketplace. Your employer probably will pick up part of the cost. Plus, choosing a marketplace plan over a job-based one usually makes you ineligible for a subsidy.

Q: What are my options if I'm a freelancer or a contractor? Or what are my options if I'm self-employed in some other way?

A: Your options in all of these situations are about the same as the options available to part-time employees.

  1. See if your spouse's or partner's health insurance can cover you. Of course, this assumes you are married or in a domestic partnership. It also assumes that person has job-based coverage. If neither of those things is true for you, consider one of the next two options.
  2. Visit the federal health insurance marketplace or one of the state exchanges. If you're not sure which one you should use, see this healthcare.gov page. It lists which states can't apply for and enroll in health coverage through the federal site. It also includes links to all of the state sites.
  3. Consider seeking even a part-time job at Lowe's, Staples, Starbucks, or Whole Foods. All of these companies offer health insurance to part-time as well as full-time employees. They're not the only ones, by the way. A number of U.S. employers do the same. Scroll up to this article's third section to see the names of more of them.

Should you go with the second option, read these articles before you fill out an application:

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