Are There Penalties if I Put My Parents on My Health Insurance Plan?

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If you live in California, you can add your parents to your private health insurance plan with no penalty as long as they are financially dependent on you and don’t qualify for government-funded health coverage through Medicare. Some insurers in other parts of the country may also agree to extend coverage to your parents but there is no guarantee that they will do so outside of California.

Keep reading for more information about when you can put your parents on your health insurance and what other factors you should keep in mind as you look for the best coverage for your parents.

Key Takeaways

  • California is the only state that requires private health insurers to let you add your parents to an individual plan with dependent coverage purchased through Covered California.
  • Your parents are only eligible to join your health insurance in California if they live in the plan’s service area, aren’t eligible for Medicare, make less than $2,000 per year and rely on you for more than half of their financial support each year.
  • There is no law requiring that employer-provided group health plans extend coverage to an employee’s parents.
  • If your parents are elderly and/or low-income, they may qualify for Medicare or Medi-Cal instead, in which case you wouldn’t need to add them to your health plan.
  • You can generally update the members of your health insurance plan during open enrollment or a special enrollment period triggered by a major life event.

Can I Put My Parents on My Health Insurance Plan?

Under California’s Parent Healthcare Act, an insurance company is required to let you add dependent parents to your health insurance if you purchased a private individual or family plan through the state’s health insurance marketplace, Covered California. Many health insurance companies elsewhere in the United States won’t let you add your parents to your plan, although you can at least reach out to your insurer to ask whether you can do so if you’re not sure about the company’s guidelines.

Your parents are eligible to join your health insurance plan in California if they:[1]

  1. Live in the plan’s service area
  2. Are not eligible for Medicare
  3. Meet the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requirements for a qualifying relative

For a parent, stepparent or parent-in-law to qualify as your tax dependent according to the IRS, they must have an annual gross income under $2,000 and you must provide more than half of their annual financial support.[2][3]

When Should I Add My Parents to My Health Insurance Plan?

You should only consider adding your parents to your health insurance if they are not eligible for coverage through a government-run program. For example, if your parents’ income is less than 138% of the federal poverty level, they could qualify for free or low-cost health insurance through Medi-Cal, which is California’s publicly-funded Medicaid program.[4]

Can I Put My Elderly Parents on My Health Insurance?

Similarly, if your parents are over the age of 65, they should qualify for coverage through the federal government’s Medicare program and shouldn’t need to be on your insurance plan. Eligible members can get Medicare Part A for free if they or their spouse worked and paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years, so your parents may only have to pay a premium for optional coverage like Medicare Part B.[5]

That said, the Parent Healthcare Act provides unique coverage for “mixed-status” families, which include lawfully present immigrants and undocumented relatives they support financially.[6] Undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible for Medicare and can’t buy private coverage through Covered California, so adding your elderly parents to your health insurance is likely your best option if they are undocumented.

Does It Cost More To Add My Parents to My Health Insurance?

Adding any dependent to your plan will generally cause your health insurance rates to go up, with parents having the potential to significantly raise your rates since older people may have to pay up to three times more for coverage than younger people.[7] Nevertheless, it may still be more cost effective to add your parents to an existing plan rather than buying them separate coverage.

For example, the deductible and out-of-pocket maximum for a family plan are often double what they would be for an individual plan that provides the same coverage.[8] As a result, if your family plan covers six people including your parents, you would collectively reach these thresholds and prompt your insurance company to contribute toward your medical expenses more quickly than if any of your family members had their own insurance plan.

What Types of Health Insurance Plans Can I Share With My Parents?

The Parent Healthcare Act only applies to private health plans that provide dependent coverage. Conversely, the law doesn’t apply to employer-sponsored group health insurance plans.[9] It’s possible that you could be allowed to add your parents to an employer-sponsored plan in California or any type of private plan elsewhere in the country but your insurance carrier has no legal obligation to let you do so.

Can My Parents Be on Two Health Insurance Plans?

You can put your parents on two health insurance plans since there is no requirement for any two family members to be covered by the same plan. For example, if one of your parents is 60 and the other is 65, you may want to add the younger parent to your health insurance and let the older parent enroll in Medicare.

How Do I Add My Parents to My Health Insurance Plan?

If your health insurance company allows you to add dependent parents to your plan, you should simply be able to contact the insurer and provide documents showing that your parents qualify as dependents in order to add them to your plan.

You will usually need to add dependents to your plan during open enrollment, which lasts from November 1 to January 15 in the majority of states.[10] However, you should also be able to update your coverage and add new plan members if your family experiences a qualifying life event. For example, you may be eligible for a special enrollment period if one of your parents dies or loses their job and employer-sponsored health coverage.

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Who can be added as a dependent on my health insurance?

For the most part, only spouses, domestic partners and children can be added as dependents on a health insurance plan. However, you can also add parents as dependents in California thanks to the Parent Healthcare Act that went into effect in 2023.

Can I add my sibling to my health insurance plan?

You typically cannot add an adult sibling to your health insurance plan, although some insurance companies may allow you to do so.

Can I add my spouse’s parents to my health insurance plan?

You can add your spouse’s parents to your health insurance plan under the California Parent Healthcare Act as long as they are financially dependent on you because in-laws can meet the IRS requirements for a qualifying relative.[2]

How do I remove a family member from my health insurance plan?

You can generally contact your insurance company and request to remove someone from your health insurance anytime that person gets coverage elsewhere. Note that this generally will only be possible during open enrollment or a special enrollment period triggered by a major life event like marriage or divorce.


  1. Covered California. “Dependent Parents or Stepparents.” Accessed Oct. 5, 2023.
  2. United States Code. “26 USC 152: Dependent Defined.” Accessed Oct. 5, 2023.
  3. United States Code. “26 USC 151: Allowance of Deductions for Personal Exemptions.” Accessed Oct. 5, 2023.
  4. California Department of Health Care Services. “Do You Qualify? | Medi-Cal Eligibility.” Accessed Oct. 5, 2023.
  5. “Costs.” Accessed Oct. 5, 2023.
  6. California Department of Insurance. “Commissioner Lara Sponsors the Parent Healthcare Act To Help Reduce Health Insurance Costs for California’s Working Families.” Accessed Oct. 5, 2023.
  7. “How Health Insurance Marketplace Plans Set Your Premiums.” Accessed Oct. 5, 2023.
  8. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “How Does Family Size Impact My Insurance Cost?” Accessed Oct. 5, 2023.
  9. Keenan. “AB 570 – Do Employers Have To Cover Dependent Parents?” Accessed Oct. 5, 2023.
  10. “When Can You Get Health Insurance?” Accessed Oct. 5, 2023.

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