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Health insurance is an essential benefit for many people, and understanding the fine-print details of your policy is critical for your health and your wallet. When it comes to adding others to your health insurance, however, the rules are ultimately determined by your employer, the health plan or both. 

Here is who you can can usually add to your health insurance plan:

  • A spouse 
  • All biological children and stepchildren
  • Adopted children
  • Foster children
  • Children under your care who are financially dependent on you
  • Financially dependent grandchildren
  • Children you must include because of a court order

Some states allow you to add domestic partners and children of the domestic partner to your health insurance plan. But you cannot add your parents or in-laws to your health plan. Also, policies differ and the guidelines can become complex.

Don’t worry, though. We’ll examine these questions and many more about who exactly you can add to your health plan – as well as when you can take people off your policy. 

Key Takeaways

  • You can generally add a spouse and children until they turn 26 onto your health insurance plan.
  • Members can’t usually add other family members, such as parents and grandchildren.
  • A divorce generally makes the ex-spouse eligible to stay on health insurance coverage, but not on their ex-spouse’s health plan. Instead, they qualify to get COBRA coverage for up to 36 months after a divorce.
  • When young adults turn 26 and drop off your health insurance, they’re eligible for COBRA coverage or may get a different health plan.

Can you put friends on your health insurance plan?

Most of the time, the only people you can add to your health insurance plan are those related to you by blood, marriage or adoption. Depending on the policy, if you can count someone as a dependent on your taxes, there might be a way to add them to your health insurance. 

If you cannot classify a person as a dependent, you most likely cannot add them to your health insurance plan. In a few states, health insurance plans will allow you to add someone if you are in a common law marriage or domestic partnership. However, this depends on your state, employer and health insurance policy — you should contact your provider to see your options. 

When you can and can’t add someone to your health plan

Adding a spouse or dependent to your health plan is a way to get them health coverage. However, not all dependents may be eligible to enroll in your health insurance. 

Here are common questions about adding someone to your health insurance.

Are young adults allowed to stay on their parent’s health plan?

Parents can keep children on a health plan until the child is 26 years old, per the Affordable Care Act. However, the parent’s employer must allow children to receive health coverage.

If your child has a child of their own, the grandchild will likely not be covered by the grandparent’s plan. Although the young adult could stay on their parent’s plan until age 26, the grandchild would need a different health plan.

If I get married, can I add my spouse’s child to my health plan? 

If your employer allows you to add children to your health plan, yes. Biological children, adopted children, stepchildren and foster children are all considered your children under the Affordable Care Act. 

You can add your spouse’s children to your plan until their 26th birthday. The child doesn’t have to live with you, be a student or still be in school to be covered by your health coverage. If your coverage is through an employer group plan that provides benefits to children, you’re given at least 30 days to enroll the new dependent, but some employers might give you a longer window of time. 

Can I add my parents to my health insurance plan?

You can usually only add a spouse and any eligible children to a healthcare plan. Even if a parent is a tax dependent and lives with you, you typically won’t be able to add them to your health coverage. The same is true even if the parent isn’t yet eligible for Medicare. Insurance policies vary, though, so contact your insurance company to see what your options might be.

Can my boyfriend or girlfriend’s child be added to my health plan? 

You probably cannot add a child to your health insurance policy unrelated by blood or adoption, but you should check with your policy. 

Some individual health insurance plans allow unmarried couples to be on the same plan, along with any legal dependents, if they’re living together or there’s a court order for the one partner to provide insurance for their child, advises Colleen King, founder and owner of Colleen King Insurance Agency in Los Angeles.

Legal separation and divorce are both COBRA-qualifying events for continuing group health coverage. Once a divorce is final, a divorcing spouse doesn’t remain on the plan and usually is removed by the spouse who carries the plan through work. 

You likely will have to wait to remove your spouse from health insurance until the divorce is final. Until then, the spouse is eligible to stay on your health plan. 

That said, your spouse can decide to get removed from your health coverage and get their own health plan. Losing coverage through a separation or divorce counts as a special enrollment period for the spouse.

Simply put, here is who can be added to your health insurance plan.

Young adult child up the age of 26Yes
My legal spouse’s childrenYes
My child with a woman whom I’m not married toYes
My parentsNo
My grandchildNo

How do you remove dependents from your health insurance plan?

You can remove family members from your health insurance at any time of the year. You don’t have to wait until open enrollment to make that change. 

Removing a family member may change your coverage type, such as moving from family coverage to single coverage. In that case, you may actually save money by removing a family member from your health coverage. 

What to do after a divorce

Divorces are painful, and there are often health insurance implications. Let’s walk through the process of removing a former spouse from your health plans.

Give notice of divorce within 30 days

If you change your marital status, you’re required to give your health plan notice as soon as possible — typically within 30 days.

Once your divorce is final, the ex-spouse’s coverage will likely be terminated immediately, although this might vary based on the plan.

Look into COBRA eligibility

Divorce qualifies you for COBRA, which is a temporary continuation of your health care coverage under the same plan and provider network.

COBRA provides temporary health coverage for individuals who lose their health insurance for specific reasons — but that comes at infamously higher costs. You can stay on the health plan through COBRA for up to 36 months if you lose health coverage as a result of divorce.

You must be given notice of your eligibility for COBRA within 14 days of your divorce and you have up to 60 days to decide whether you want COBRA coverage. Premiums will likely be much higher because your ex-spouse’s employer will not be paying any portion. If you can get a health plan elsewhere, it will be cheaper than getting a COBRA plan. 

Understand your state’s laws about healthcare and divorce

The rules involving health insurance and divorce are somewhat different in a few other states, says Susan Sonkin, compliance specialist for EBS Capstone insurance brokers.

“In Massachusetts, we have an insurance rule that says fully insured plans must continue to offer the former spouse coverage as if the divorce had not taken place,” she explains.

Finalize the details with your health insurance company

You should notify your employer of a divorce once it’s final. If you don’t, you could be liable for any benefits the health plan pays for your ex. They also may try to recover the cost of a claim from you. 

There could also be tax implications. You can’t pay for an ex’s coverage with pre-tax dollars. 

Some health benefits may remain after a divorce. You and your children may still have access to some of your ex-spouse’s health benefits.

Additionally, if you and your ex had been contributing to a health savings account, you still may be able to use your share of the money in that account to pay health care premiums or for qualified health care expenses. Even though your ex-spouse is no longer eligible for your health plan, your children are still eligible.

“The value of the health coverage provided to the ex-spouse is taxable to the employee, to the extent it is not paid for with post-tax dollars,” says Sonkin.

You should talk to your health insurance company about your options. 

Frequently asked questions

Can I put a foster child on my health insurance?

Yes, a foster child counts as an eligible child who you can add to your health plan. 

Can I add my mom to my health insurance through my employer?

No, you most probably cannot add a parent to your employer-sponsored health insurance, although you should check with the insurer to find out its exact policy. 

Can I add a stepchild to my health insurance?

Yes, you can add the children of your spouse to your health insurance.

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Barry Eitel
Contributing Researcher


Barry Eitel is a content writer and journalist focused on insurance, small business and finance. He has researched and written about personal finance since 2012, with a special focus on entrepreneurship, freelancing and other small business operations. His writing on insurance and small business has been featured in 7x7, Brit + Co, Intuit Quickbooks, Bankrate, Policygenius and Lendio.