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Raising Grandchildren? Make Sure They Have Insurance

You could face a monetary penalty if your grandchild doesn’t have health care coverage

Grandchildren Insurance

Tom Merton/Getty Images

A grandparent could be fined hundreds of dollars if they don't follow health care laws.

You’re a grandparent on Medicare, so you have no reason to care that open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) closes on Dec. 15, right? Wrong.

Health care advocates are urging grandparents to make sure their children and grandchildren have health insurance. It’s not only important to have coverage to afford medical care — it’s also the law.

The ACA requires that most Americans have health insurance — either through their job, a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid, or through an ACA Marketplace plan — or face a penalty. 

More than 2.5 million grandparents across the country are rearing grandchildren. Any grandparent who claims a grandchild as a dependent on his or her federal income tax return is responsible for obtaining health insurance for that child.

“They face a penalty if those kids remain uninsured,” says Shelli Quenga, one of thousands of navigators who help people enroll in the ACA. Quenga is director of programs for the Palmetto Project, a nonprofit social services organization in South Carolina. 

The penalty isn’t cheap: It’s $347.50 per child under age 18 ($695 per adult) or 2.5 percent of the household’s adjusted gross income, whichever is higher.

Grandparents can also check whether a grandchild is eligible for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a partnership between states and the federal government that provides low-cost health care coverage to children in families who are low-income but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

Jeremy Smith, program director for West Virginia Navicare, another navigator service, says the program has had "very good success" targeting grandparents. “Grandparents understand how important health insurance is,” Smith says. “Our message is: ‘Call your kids and your grandkids and let them know about open enrollment.’ ”