Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment Explained in 2 Minutes:

A Basic Explanation

Open enrollment is a window of time when you can sign up for comprehensive health insurance or change your plan.

The open enrollment period to buy coverage for 2015 officially ended on February 15, but most states have extended the deadline. If you want to buy major medical insurance for yourself or your family (and you’re not getting coverage through your job), now's the time. Otherwise, you’ll need to wait until the next open enrollment period, which begins November 1, 2015.

Outside that time period, you may only be able to buy health insurance if you have a qualifying event.

Expert Advice About Open Enrollment

For many Americans, the idea of open enrollment is a new one. That’s why it’s a good idea to get out your calendar or smartphone and set a reminder right now. And tell your friends, too. Don’t forget, there’s a limited window of time to enroll.

There are good reasons to shop early. Our best advice is not to procrastinate. That way, you’ll avoid the crush of last-minute shoppers. You'll also have plenty of time to compare plans and find the best coverage for you and your family.

If you miss the window, you could be stuck without health coverage, or the coverage you want. If you get sick or injured and don’t have health insurance, you may end up with a nasty surprise: some big medical bills. And if you find you need health insurance and it’s not open enrollment, you might not be able to get the type of coverage you want. (There are back-up options like short-term medical insurance that can tide you over until the next open enrollment, but your best options will always be available during open enrollment.)

If you don’t sign up, you may have to pay a penalty. As part of the new healthcare reform laws, most people must have health insurance or pay a penalty. (Some people are exempt from this requirement.) If you buy your health insurance during open enrollment, you’ll avoid the fee. If you don’t, your penalty will start to add up the longer you’re uninsured.

What else you need to know:

There are certain times when you can buy health insurance outside of open enrollment. If you experience certain changes in your life — what’s called a qualifying event — you can become eligible for a special enrollment period. This is a window of time when you can shop for health insurance. A qualifying event can include a change in family size (you have a baby, a child turns 26 and ages out of your coverage, you get married or divorced), you get laid off from your job, or you move to another state.

With some types of coverage, you can enroll anytime. Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) don’t limit their enrollment periods. You can apply for either program at any time during the year. If you think you might qualify for Medicaid or CHIP, apply on healthcare.gov or your state’s marketplace. Note: If you’re American Indian or an Alaska native you can enroll in a health plan year-round.

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