Learn about the open enrollment period, and other times when you can buy health insurance.
Obamacare has an annual Open Enrollment Period when people can shop on the individual market for ACA-qualified medical plans. A few states may extend this period. The federal government might also make allowances for specific circumstances, such as for people in disaster zones. Below is the calendar for the 2018 Open Enrollment Period.
Families or individuals who want to buy individual market health insurance outside of the Open Enrollment Period may still qualify for a Special Enrollment Period or choose to purchase a non-Obamacare medical plan.
Qualifying for an Obamacare Special Enrollment Period
It’s possible to qualify for a Special Enrollment Period because of certain life events. These exceptions that allow some people to enroll outside of Open Enrollment include:
- Losing a group major medical plan because of a job loss or other reason
- Getting married, having a death in the family, or having or adopting a child
- Having a change in income that triggers tax credits for Obamacare plans
- Moving to a different individual market that isn’t covered by the current ACA plan
- Becoming a US citizen or legal resident
These life events outside of the Open Enrollment Period usually allow individuals or families 60 days to choose a new health insurance policy. People who wait too long may have to wait for the next Open Enrollment Period to enroll in an Obamacare medical plan on the individual market.
Health plan alternatives outside the Open Enrollment Period
Most people should choose their coverage inside of an annual Open Enrollment Period, if they plan to buy an individual or family plan on their own. This ensures prompt coverage and may help avoid possible tax penalties for noncompliance with the individual mandate. Some families could qualify for either a hardship exemption or affordability exemptions to the penalty even if they cannot enroll during open enrollment and don’t have qualifying circumstances that will give them a Special Enrollment Period.
Even if it’s not possible to purchase Obamacare outside of the yearly open enrollment, some people may hope to still find short-term or supplemental health insurance plans that they can use to help cover medical costs. Individual market products, like supplemental or short-term health insurance, probably will not offer the same level of protection as an Obamacare plan, but these coverage options are usually more affordable. See more about alternatives to Obamacare here.
Plans that don’t meet the minimum standards for Obamacare also won’t provide an exemption from possible penalties on their own, but they might be useful in circumstances when people do qualify for exemptions. These alternative health plans may help bridge a coverage gap for people who are between major medical insurance plans for various reasons. Some examples could include new employees who must wait for group coverage or foreign tourists in the United States.
How to explore the Individual market for health insurance
At any time of the year, eHealth can help consumers explore the individual market with quick health insurance quotes. Whether you’re preparing for the open enrollment, looking for alternative coverage, or just want to compare plan prices to your current health insurance plan, we make it easy to view your health insurance options. Consumers and small business owners can view a variety of options for group, individual market, and supplemental health insurance.