Ah, fall. A time to drink pumpkin spice lattes, admire the changing leaves, and watch college football. It's a season of change, of possibility, of openness—which makes it a great season for, yep, open enrollment.
Since this has been a crazy year for many of us—from losing jobs to getting rehired to pursuing a new source of income—your open enrollment may look different this year than years past. To help you prepare, let’s take a deeper dive.
What is Open Enrollment for Health Insurance?
It’s a small window of time—anywhere from a few weeks to a few months—that allows you to make changes to your health insurance plan or enroll in a new one.
Why is Open Enrollment Important?
It’s all about that first word: open. For most of the year, enrollment is closed, meaning you can’t make changes to your plan. There are some exceptions, called “qualifying life events,” such as marriage, having a baby, losing a job, or getting a divorce. But unless you have one of these, you can’t make changes to the plan you chose after open enrollment.
That’s why it’s crucial you choose the right plan. You may discover that getting on your spouse’s employer sponsored plan is cheaper than having your own policy. When you make this discovery during open enrollment, you can switch to your spouse’s plan and enjoy saving money throughout the year.
When does Open Enrollment Start?
For 2021 plans, open enrollment begins on November 1 and ends on December 15 (to get more information, check out the government website.) If you get health insurance through your employer, your HR department will reach out to you with open enrollment information.
What if I Miss Open Enrollment?
The rules are pretty strict, but there are three ways around it.
1. You have a qualifying life event.
When you undergo a major change in your life, you’ll most likely have to adjust your health insurance. Thankfully, the government recognizes that, too, which is why for certain events, you’ll get a special enrollment period. Those events are generally:
- Getting married
- Having or adopting a baby
- Moving to a new city
- Losing or getting a new job
- Turning 26 or 65
- Getting divorced
- Having someone on your plan die
- Becoming a U.S. citizen
If you go through any of these events, you’ll get around 30 to 60 days to make changes to your plan.
2. You’re Native American.
If you’re a part of a federally recognized tribe, you get a special monthly enrollment period. You can find more information on that here.
3. You get short-term insurance.
Short-term insurance is basically how it sounds—an insurance plan that fills the gaps between long-term insurance plans. States have various rules around short-term insurance (like how long you can buy coverage), but if your only alternative is to go uninsured until open enrollment, buying insurance for the short-term might be best for you.