Should I Consider Getting Secondary Health Insurance?

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Secondary insurance refers to a separate but supplemental policy that can cover some of the gaps in your primary health insurance plan. In terms of payment order, your primary provider will be billed first and your secondary provider will pay toward the remaining balance.

Read about the different kinds of secondary health insurance.

Key Takeaways

  • Types of secondary insurance include death and dismemberment insurance, critical illness insurance, gap health insurance and more.
  • If both of your health insurance policies cover similar services, a process called coordination of benefits will determine who pays first.
  • Secondary insurance can pay for services excluded by your primary policy such as dental cleanings and eye exams.
  • Your secondary policy may even cover your primary policy’s out-of-pocket costs, like Medigap does for Medicare.

What Is Secondary Health Insurance?

Secondary health insurance is a supplemental policy that covers medical expenses not paid by your primary insurance. This can include coverage for excluded benefits such as dental and vision, as well as payment toward deductibles, copays and other out-of-pocket costs. In addition, you may be able to see a provider that you like that is excluded in your primary policy’s network but is inside your secondary policy’s network.

Individuals can buy secondary insurance from their employer, the health insurance marketplace, private insurance companies and government programs Medicaid or Medicare.

How Does Secondary Insurance Work?

If you have two health insurance policies that cover the same types of healthcare services, a process called coordination of benefits will determine who pays first. Your policy may already spell out which company is the first payor but you can ask your carrier if you’re unsure. For example, if you’re a Medicare recipient age 65 or older, Medicare may pay first or second depending on the type of secondary insurance you have.[1]

Secondary Insurance

Does Medicare Pay First or Second?

Retiree insurance from your former employer

Medicare pays first

Group health insurance through your spouse’s current employer + employer has 20 or more employees

Medicare pays second

Group health insurance through your spouse’s current employer + employer has fewer than 20 employees

Medicare pays first

Group health insurance through a family member’s current employer + you have a disability + the employer has fewer than 100 employees

Medicare pays second

Whichever carrier that pays the medical bill first should send you an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement that outlines what was paid and the remaining balance. You can then submit this EOB statement to your secondary insurance and they will pay toward eligible expenses up to that policy’s limits. Any amount remaining will have to be paid out of pocket by you.

In addition, secondary insurance can cover services and expenses entirely excluded from your primary policy. Dental and vision insurance are common types of secondary insurance because dental cleanings, eye exams and other related services are usually not included in your primary health insurance. Meanwhile, a type of secondary insurance called Medigap covers out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries such as deductibles, copays and coinsurance.

What Types of Secondary Coverages Can You Get?

Secondary insurance includes a range of insurance plans that complement primary insurance coverage. Some plans may pair well with high-deductible plans while others pay toward expenses not covered by the primary policy such as vision or dental services.

Secondary Insurance


Death and Dismemberment Insurance

Provides death, dismemberment and disability benefits and reimburses for medical expenses when an accident causes injury, disability or death

Critical Illness Insurance

Pays a predetermined lump sum to be used toward eligible expenses when the policyholder is diagnosed with a chronic illness such as cancer or suffers a heart attack or stroke

Dental Insurance

Covers dental visits, preventive care and significant dental services or orthodontia

Vision Insurance

Covers eye care expenses like exams and eyewear

Disability Insurance

Replaces a portion of the income of a disabled person who cannot work on a short- or long-term basis depending on the severity

Gap Health Insurance

Provides a lump-sum payment for covered ailments, offsetting out-of-pocket expenses


Pays for certain expenses not covered by Original Medicare including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance.

Medicare Part D

Provides prescription drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries

Can the VA Be a Secondary Insurance Provider?

Veterans can get healthcare coverage through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which can be a secondary insurance provider if you already have a primary health insurance plan.[2] The VA can coordinate with your primary insurance to cover gaps in your healthcare costs.

How Much Does Secondary Insurance Cost?

Since there are so many different types of secondary insurance plans, the cost of a secondary insurance plan will depend on which one you choose. For instance, the cost of a Medicare supplement plan (Medigap) is around $150 per month, while the average cost for dental coverage is between $20 to $50 for an individual plan.[3][4] A group family health insurance plan alone is over $1,800 per month.[5]

Who Can Have Secondary Health Insurance?

Here are some groups of people who can have secondary medical insurance:

  1. Individuals with private health insurance: Private plans are purchased through the health insurance marketplace or directly from healthcare companies.
  2. Spouses who are each insured through their employer: Spouses with group health insurance through their employers can use their spouse’s coverage as secondary insurance. Coverage through your employer will be primary and your spouse’s coverage will be the secondary payor so long as you’re a named insured on their policy.
  3. Underage children when both parents are separately insured: The policy of the parent whose birthday comes first in a calendar year will function as primary coverage for the child. Meanwhile, the other spouse’s health insurance policy can be secondary coverage.
  4. Adults under age 26: Those under 26 who are still on their parent's health plan can get secondary coverage through work or school.
  5. Medicare beneficiaries: Medicare beneficiaries may opt for secondary health insurance coverage known as Medigap, which pays for out-of-pocket costs like deductibles and copays.
  6. Medicaid recipients: In some cases, individuals eligible for Medicaid may have secondary health insurance through Medicare.

How Do I Choose the Best Secondary Health Insurance Plan?

The type of secondary plan that offers the most value for you will depend on your lifestyle and whether your primary plan covers services you need. For example, individuals who work dangerous jobs should consider accidental death & dismemberment insurance in case they suffer a debilitating workplace injury. Meanwhile, vision insurance — often excluded in health insurance policies — is a good idea for individuals who need prescription glasses or contact lens refills.

Once you identify what you need, it’s time to compare the coverage and cost options offered by different secondary insurance providers. As you evaluate the cost of premiums, deductibles and copayments, consider your budget and determine what level of financial protection is affordable for you. Also, check if your preferred healthcare providers are included in the plan's network, as this can significantly impact your access to care.

It's also worth considering customer reviews and the plan's additional benefits. If you find the decision overwhelming or need further guidance, consult with an insurance broker or use an insurance marketplace like SmartFinancial to ask questions from a healthcare insurance professional and get a free quote.

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How do I choose which insurance plan is primary or secondary?

You don't typically choose which plan is primary or secondary. For example, health insurance through your work is automatically primary and your spouse's plan with you as a named insured is automatically secondary.

Can I have two health insurance plans at the same time?

You can have multiple health insurance plans that work in tandem with one another, effectively eliminating many out-of-pocket costs. These would be known as primary and secondary insurance.

Can I use secondary health insurance to cover deductibles?

Certain secondary insurance plans like Medigap can cover out-of-pocket costs like deductibles, coinsurance and copays.

Is secondary insurance worth it?

Secondary insurance can be worth it since it can provide an additional layer of coverage to complement your primary insurance. It can be advantageous for managing high healthcare costs due to chronic conditions or covering services excluded in your primary policy, such as optometrist or dentist visits.


  1. Medicare. “Coordination of Benefits,” Page 2. Accessed June 9, 2023.
  2. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “VA Health Care and Other Insurance.” Accessed June 4, 2023.
  3. RetireGuide. “Medicare Supplemental Insurance (Medigap) Costs.” Accessed June 4, 2023.
  4. Humana. “How Much Does Individual Dental Insurance Cost?” Accessed June 4, 2023.
  5. Kaiser Family Foundation. “2022 Employer Health Benefits Survey.” Accessed June 4, 2023.

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