Health Care and Insurance for Young Adults on a Budget

Are you a college student, recent college graduate, or young adult worried about the price of health care? You are not alone. According to a Gallup poll, around one in six people between ages 18 and 24 were uninsured in 2017.

For young adults, access to healthcare can be precarious at best. Perhaps you’ve graduated and no longer have access to the student health center. Or you haven’t yet secured a post-graduation job with health insurance coverage. Or you just got kicked off your parent’s insurance.

Regardless of the reason you're worried about the cost of health insurance and health care, there are low-cost and free options that can help you access the care you need while sticking to your budget.

Low-cost health insurance options

If you don't have health insurance, costs can add up quickly. The best way to save money in the long term and protect your health — and finances — is to invest in health insurance. There are several low-cost (and potentially even free) health care options for young people.

  • Stay on your parent’s health insurance plan. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), young adults under 26 are eligible to stay on a parent’s health insurance plan. This is true even if you're married, don't live with your parents, or are eligible to enroll in an employer’s health insurance plan.

  • Choose an ACA marketplace health insurance plan. Several kinds of plans are available for young people at discounted rates under the ACA.

  • Get insurance from your university’s insurance program. Colleges and universities often require students to have some form of health insurance in order to enroll. For students who don’t have health insurance through another source, schools offer their own health plans for students.

  • Check your eligibility for Medicaid. If you're a young adult who is struggling to pay for rent and food, let alone health insurance, you might qualify for Medicaid through your state. Check with the ACA's health insurance marketplace or with your state's Medicaid office to see if your income and family size qualifies you for Medicaid.

  • Consider a catastrophic health insurance plan. Catastrophic health plans may sound, well, scary, but may be one of the cheapest ways to give yourself health coverage. Catastrophic health insurance plans protect against medical emergencies like a broken leg that could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in an emergency room. It's a common misconception that these plans don't cover routine health care at all — they usually cover certain preventive services at no cost and may cover a few primary care visits per year. However, deductibles are very high and you may end up paying thousands out of pocket for the rest of your routine medical care.

Low-cost health care options

Whether you have low-quality insurance or no insurance coverage at all, there are still ways for you to get the health care you need while keeping your costs down.

  • Go to the student health center. If you're still enrolled in a college or university, the student health center can provide you with low-cost healthcare. Often, students can book appointments for a flat fee and pay for diagnostic tests and treatments from a set list of prices.

  • Go to a community health center. If you're uninsured, community health centers are a great way to get budget friendly primary healthcare, vaccinations, dental and vision care, and referrals to specialists. Many community health centers operate on a sliding scale, meaning that you pay based on your income. The federal government’s Health Resources and Services Administration keeps a searchable list of community health centers that it funds.

  • Go to a free or charitable clinic. If you are uninsured or underinsured, you might qualify for a visit to a free or charitable clinic. Staff and volunteers at these clinics can provide medical, dental, vision, mental health, and even pharmacy services, regardless of your ability to pay. Check the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics' searchable map of clinics to find a clinic near you.

  • Go to a retail health clinic. Retail health clinics operate in stores and pharmacies like Wal-Mart and CVS. They're good for young adults on a budget because they're often cheaper than primary care doctors or emergency room visits and usually list the prices of their services upfront. If you're usually healthy and need to be seen by a medical professional quickly, a retail health clinic could be ideal.

The bottom line for young adult health coverage

Don't assume that health insurance and health care are too expensive for you. The best way to save money on health care is to do your research and understand your options. Reach out to your parents, campus health center, insurance provider, and any medical providers you use to discuss your options for getting care without going over your budget.

Angela Pupino
Meet Our Writer
Angela Pupino

Angela Pupino is an editorial intern at and an M.S. in public policy student at Carnegie Mellon University. Her articles have appeared in CNN, Quartz, and The Nation. You can follow her on Twitter @A_Pupino.