If you have a health insurance plan, either through your employer, the health insurance marketplace or a private insurer, some people in your household may be eligible for coverage. Here’s what you need to know about who might qualify, how to get them added and more.

What is a dependent for health insurance?

As the primary person listed on your health insurance, you’re the policyholder. This means that you own your health plan, and it centers around your coverage and care. But in some circumstances, you can extend coverage to your dependents too. These are members of your household, typically family, who are eligible to receive health insurance benefits under your policy.

Determining health insurance dependent eligibility

Adding a dependent to your health insurance plan is often simple, but not all health insurance plans have the same guidelines, rules and limitations. Before you purchase a plan, review the details. Many plans will specify who you can add as a dependent based on the terms or type of your policy.

For the most part, if someone is listed as a dependent on your taxes, like your child, they can be added as a dependent on your health insurance plan. To do this, you’ll most likely have to issue some proof during the verification process. This might include a birth certificate for biological children, a marriage certificate for a spouse or an adoption certificate for legally adopted children – among other things.

Adding your child as a dependent

Most children who receive health insurance coverage do so as a dependent under their parent or guardian’s employer-sponsored health plan. This includes biological children, adopted children or foster children for whom you’re responsible and can claim as a dependent in your tax returns.

Technically, both parents can add a child as a dependent on their health insurance plans. However, one parent will hold the primary policy, and another will hold the secondary. This is where the birthday insurance rule comes into effect – whichever parent was born first in the calendar year is typically the holder of their child’s primary policy. While this isn’t a law, it is considered a best practice by most insurance companies.

26 is the dependent age limit for children to be added to your health insurance

Because of changes implemented by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), children can stay covered on their family’s health insurance plan until age 26. It doesn’t matter if they’re in school, aren’t a dependent on your taxes, are married with children or even if they opt out of insurance through their workplace – they can still get coverage through your family plan.

However, schooling can make things tricky sometimes. If your child goes to a school out of state or overseas, your plan may not be able to cover them. That’s why it’s important to check your plan details months before your child gets ready to head to school.

There are also exceptions for over-26 adult children looking to stay on their parent’s plan. For instance, if you’re taking care of an adult child with a disability, that child may be able to stay on your plan. Also, based on which state you’re in, some adult children can stay on their family’s plan until they’re 29, but only if they’re able to be claimed as a dependent on their parents’ taxes. To see if this option exists for you, check out your state's official website to get started.

A dependent stepchild can be covered by your health insurance

Stepchildren can be covered by a policyholder’s health insurance plan the same way as biological children. This also extends to foster children or other kids who are legally in your care. In most circumstances, a stepchild or foster child must be currently living with you to be eligible.

Adding your spouse as a dependent

Yes, your wife, husband or legal spouse can be added as a dependent to most insurance plans. However, this may change slightly if your partner has recently immigrated to the United States. Check with your insurance plan for more information.

Can you add your parents to your health insurance?

Typically, adult parents cannot be added to your health insurance plan. However, there are exceptions depending on what your plan stipulates and where you live. In some states, you may be able to add adult dependents, such as your mother or father, if you claim them on your tax returns and they aren’t yet eligible for Medicare.

What non-family members can be added to your health insurance

Usually, non-family members cannot be added to your health insurance plan. However, it all depends on what your policy covers. Many plans extend coverage to domestic partners. To add them to your health insurance, you’ll most likely have to sign an affidavit confirming how long you’ve been together, that you’re not related and that you’re both over 18.

In many cases, if your insurance allows you to add a domestic partner as a dependent, this also extends to any of their children who live with you.

How to add a dependent to your health insurance

Now that you know who you might be able to add as a dependent to your insurance, it’s time to talk how.

You can add a dependent to your policy (whether that’s health, dental or vision insurance) during the Open Enrollment Period, a yearly window during which you can change your plan or enroll in a new one. But you don’t always have to wait – if you experience a qualifying life event, it may trigger a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). This could be the birth of a child, marriage, loss of a job or more.

Once you add someone to your insurance, they will receive the same benefits you do. You and every covered member of your plan will receive an ID card after being added or when your plan takes effect.

How to remove a dependent from your health insurance

In most cases, you can remove a dependent from your health plan at any time. You do not have to wait for the annual Open Enrollment Period. To do so, contact your plan’s Member Services team via a number that’s usually listed on the back of your ID card. They will be able to help you remove dependents or get the process started.

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