Open enrollment is the three-month period when you can sign up for coverage under the ACA or change your existing plan. Outside of open enrollment, you can’t sign up for an individual plan — unless your life changes in a big way.
|Open enrollment period: For individual health plans, this three-month period is the only time you can buy an individual health plan unless you have a “qualifying life event.” It takes place annually from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31.|
|Qualifying life event: A major event that affects your health insurance needs and qualifies you to make changes to or buy a health plan outside of open enrollment.|
|Special enrollment period: The time period after a qualifying life event, typically 60 days, when you can change your health plan or enroll in a new plan.|
Special enrollment periods
Open enrollment for individual 2017 health plans closed Jan. 31. For individual health plans in 2018, the open enrollment period will be from Nov. 1, 2017, to Jan. 31, 2018.
If you get health insurance through an employer, a university as a student, Medicare or Medicaid, your enrollment period will differ.
If you experience a qualifying life event, you can take advantage of a special enrollment period to make changes to your individual health plan or buy a new one. You typically have 60 days from the date of the qualifying life event to make the change.
You can visit a state or federal marketplace through Healthcare.gov to buy health insurance. If you’re making a change to your health plan, such as adding or removing a family member, contact your health insurance company directly.
Qualifying life events for individual health insurance
|Loss of health insurance|
|Changes in household||
|Changes in residence||
|Other qualifying events||
Other situations may qualify you for a special enrollment period and are considered on a case-by-case basis. See a list of these complex issues at Healthcare.gov.
Missed open enrollment and don’t have a qualifying life event?
If you missed open enrollment and don’t qualify for special enrollment, you may be able to get health insurance through a public program if your household income is low:
- Medicaid, for low-income adults, enrolls year-round.
- CHIP, for low-income children, also enrolls year-round.
Medicaid and CHIP eligibility requirements vary by state. You can check your state’s guidelines at Medicaid.gov to see whether you qualify.
Another option is to sign up for a temporary health insurance plan. These plans typically are available directly from an insurer, but read policy details carefully before you buy, because they may not cover common services like mental health care or prescription drugs. Also, short-term or temporary health plans don’t count as “minimum coverage” under federal law, and you may still face a tax penalty for not having health insurance.
Updated Feb. 8, 2017.