When the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) first passed, it was a groundbreaking achievement for healthcare in the U.S. It wrote the rules for the individual insurance market, which was largely unregulated up to that point. In the process, it made health insurance accessible to millions of Americans who did not have insurance through their employers.
The catch is that individuals are responsible for managing their own insurance—and that means paying careful attention to open enrollment.
When is the next open enrollment, and what do you need to prepare for it? Here’s what you should know to find the right coverage for you and your family.
What is Open Enrollment?
Typically, when you get insurance through an employer, your enrollment period happens during onboarding. Since companies can onboard employees anytime throughout the year, it qualifies as a life event and a valid reason to change insurance plans without penalty.
However, since the marketplace primarily deals with individuals who need health insurance, the rules work a little differently.
The marketplace relies on a period called open enrollment, an annual period where you can enroll in or change benefits. While it’s typically applied to health insurance, it also applies to other critical benefits for you and your family, like vision insurance, dental insurance, health savings accounts, health reimbursement arrangement accounts, and flexible spending accounts.
When is the Next Open Enrollment?
Typically, open enrollment occurs between November 1 and December 15 of each year.
However, these dates may vary if you live in a state with a state-run insurance marketplace. It may also change based on major marketwide circumstances. In 2021, for example, the government approved a special enrollment period in response to the COVID-19 emergency.
There are also different rules if you’re enrolling as an individual or as part of group insurance. The November 1 to December 15 deadlines apply to individual insurance buyers, but group insurance deadlines may vary.
Why Healthcare Marketplace Deadlines Matter
These deadlines are more than just suggested dates. They’re hard deadlines for getting health insurance policies in the following year.
In a work setting, starting a new job qualifies as a life event, and you’re allowed to change your policy without issue. But buying insurance on the market as an individual works differently. Insurance companies only allow you to enroll during certain times of year.
What Happens if You Miss Health Insurance Deadlines?
Let’s say life got a little hairy between November 1 and December 15. And let’s say you forgot the deadlines, or you couldn’t finish purchasing your policies in time. What happens then?
Unfortunately, nothing good.
As far as insurance companies are concerned, you had a month and a half to enroll in an insurance plan. If you failed to do so during the annual window, that’s your problem, not theirs. And they won’t make exceptions for late enrollments except in cases where a special enrollment period is enforced, as in the COVID-19 crisis.
Basically? If you miss health insurance deadlines, you can’t enroll. Even if you’re a day late.
What Are Your Options If You Miss Obamacare Deadlines?
That said, if you miss the open enrollment period, you may have some options.
If you missed the open enrollment period because you had a job at the time and lost it after the open enrollment period ended, you may be able to get an affordable insurance plan through the marketplace once you file for unemployment (based on your household size and income). You may also qualify for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Again, this is based on household size and income, not employment status.
However, if you didn’t lose your old insurance due to a major life event and simply forgot to sign up for a policy, you have extremely limited options until the next enrollment period. Insurance companies make exceptions for major life events, not mistakes.
How to Prepare for the Open Enrollment Period
Because the open enrollment period is rigid, it’s important to prepare for it in advance.
All insurance plans available through the marketplace, Medicaid, and CHIP are available to view in advance of the enrollment period. You can even do price and coverage comparisons before open enrollment begins.
You should do your homework on the options in your state, what you can afford, and what coverage is right for you and your family before the open enrollment period begins. Then, once open enrollment starts, you can apply for a plan without any issue.
In the meantime, you should also collect the relevant information to apply for health insurance. You have to prove that you reside in the United States and are a United States citizen, a United States national, or are otherwise lawfully present in the country at the time of application.
The Health Coverage You Need to Protect Yourself and Your Family
When is the next open enrollment period? Answering this simple question makes a world of difference in preparing to apply for health insurance coverage. But for everything that comes after, yo uneed the right tools to find coverage for you and your family.
That’s where we come in. We make it easy to find and compare plans for individual and family health insurance, including available coverage levels and prices associated with each. That way, you’ll have all the information you need to make an informed decision about your health insurance. But most of all, you can make decisions with peace of mind knowing that your family is protected.
Ready to get started? Get a quote today.