Are Interns Eligible for Health Care Benefits?

An intern being taught by mentor at an internship
Photo:   Tom Werner / Getty Images

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that employers with 50 or more employees working 30 hours or more per week must offer certain benefits, including access to affordable health insurance policies. This rule covers “full-time equivalent” (FTE) employees, but interns may not be included in a company's health insurance coverage.

Here's how the law regards interns and other types of workers when it comes to health insurance benefits.

Key Takeaways

  • The opportunity to sign up for health insurance is guaranteed to many full-time employees.
  • Unpaid interns do not qualify as full-time employees, but paid interns may qualify for benefits under certain circumstances.
  • Seasonal employees of six months or less are also exempt from health insurance requirements.
  • Interns younger than age 26 can instead access health insurance through their parents.

Unpaid Interns

For a company to be required to pay for health care coverage, it must be for full-time employees. Independent contractors or unpaid interns are not considered, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, to be full-time employees.


Paid interns may be eligible for health insurance, but it depends on factors such as how long they will be at their internship.

If your internship is unpaid, you may want to check the Department of Labor’s guidelines to ensure that your internship meets the seven-factor "primary beneficiary test" for unpaid internships.

Seasonal Employment

Even if an internship is paid, there may be additional exclusions available. For example, “Seasonal employees” (those hired to work for a position that is customarily six months or less at approximately the same time each year), may also be excluded from the ACA.

Students Younger Than 26

In addition, under the ACA, parents are allowed to keep their children on their health care insurance until the age of 26. Students covered by a parent's insurance do not need to receive coverage through their employer.

On the other hand, if the parent's health care is through a health maintenance organization (HMO), the need to receive care through an in-network provider could pose a problem. A student that gets an internship in another state may not be able to receive care unless they return home, and this can be a real inconvenience for the student.

Employer Shared Responsibility Payment

If an employer has more than 50 FTE employees, it must provide health insurance for its full-time staff members, or it will be forced to pay a hefty monthly “Employer Shared Responsibility Payment.” This is a penalty assessed to employers that fail to comply with the ACA.

For an individual to be considered full-time under the ACA, they must average over 30 hours per week for more than 120 days. The 120 days do not have to be consecutive, but they must occur during a calendar year.

For students completing a paid internship and averaging over 30 hours per week over the course of 120 days (does not need to be consecutive but must occur within a year), the employer may very well be required to pay for health care benefits for the intern.


If you are a paid intern working for the summer and you meet all of the above stipulations, check with your employer about whether you have the right to receive health care benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What fringe benefits do interns get?

According to federal law, businesses do not need to compensate interns at all. A business may choose to pay an intern a wage, or it may choose to offer fringe benefits (free meals, a company car, health insurance, etc.), but that is entirely up to the business.

Why are internships important?

The primary benefits of internships are work experience, networking opportunities, and resume building. All three of these perks help set you up for future success in your career. You may develop skills that a future employer needs, you may make connections with someone who can later offer you a job, or you may find that listing the internship on your resume gets you more interviews with potential employers.

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  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions."

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "Determining Whether Interns at For-Profit Employers Are Employees Under the FLSA."

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Questions and Answers on Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions Under the Affordable Care Act," Expand Question 27.

  4. "How To Get or Stay on a Parent's Plan."

  5. GovInfo. "26 U.S.C. 4980H - Shared Responsibility for Employers Regarding Health Coverage," Page 2879. Download Text.

  6. "Full-Time Employee (FTE)."

  7. U.S. Department of Labor. "Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act."

  8. U.S. Department of Education. "The Benefits and Challenges of Summer Internships."

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