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Home » Health, Health Insurance Qualifying Life Events for Special Enrollment

Last updated by on January 16, 2016

One of the biggest selling points of the Affordable Care Act was that it would allow millions who previously had not had insurance to get affordable insurance through a public health insurance exchange. The biggest benefactors primarily included:

1. those without an employer plan who had pre-existing conditions

2. those who could not afford a plan on their own due to income, age, or some combination of the two

The inaugural open enrollment is now over, and the number of health insurance marketplace plan subscriptions recently surpassed 7.5 million (more than the original target goal of 7 million). And 5.4 million non-elderly adults now have insurance who did not prior to the health insurance marketplace open enrollment that started last October. The original intent has mostly been fulfilled.

healthcare enrollment qualifying life eventBut now that open enrollment has closed, what if life (shit) unpredictably happens, as it often does, and you have a massive life changing event and need insurance coverage?

There’s always good ole COBRA, if you leave your job and want to extend your employer’s insurance plan. But it’s typically way overpriced. You can check out your W2, box 12, code DD to find out how much your employer and you (through premiums) are paying for your insurance plan. With COBRA, you’d pay that (broken down in to monthly premiums), plus up to an additional 2% admin fee. COBRA can last up to 18 months, if you are eligible.

As I discovered, your employer’s insurance plan can be way overpriced, which could make COBRA cost prohibitive for you. Then what?

The 2015 health insurance marketplace open enrollment doesn’t begin until November 15, 2014. This and future enrollment periods will be much shorter than the inaugural one (3 vs. 6 months). That means everyone who wants to sign up for insurance has three months to do it, and nine other months where they cannot. Thankfully, there are exceptions.

For starters, if you are eligible, you can apply and enroll in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) any time. There is no limited open enrollment period for these programs. Also, members of federally recognized tribes and Alaska native shareholders are eligible to enroll any time.

If you don’t fall in to one of those categories, then what?

You can still apply and enroll for a plan outside of open enrollment through a special enrollment, at any time. But in order to do so, you need to have a qualifying life event (QLE). Example qualifying life events include:

  • Marriage
  • Having a baby
  • Adopting a child or placing a child for adoption or foster care
  • Moving outside your insurer’s coverage area
  • Losing other health coverage—due to losing job-based coverage, divorce, the end of an individual policy plan year in 2014, COBRA expiration, aging off a parent’s plan, losing eligibility for Medicaid or CHIP, and similar circumstances. Voluntarily ending coverage doesn’t qualify you for a special enrollment period. Neither does losing coverage that doesn’t qualify as minimum essential coverage.
  • Gaining citizenship
  • Leaving incarceration
  • Gaining status as member of an Indian tribe. Members of federally recognized Indian tribes can sign up for or change plans once per month throughout the year.
  • For people already enrolled in Marketplace coverage: Having a change in income or household status that affects eligibility for premium tax credits or cost-sharing reductions

There could be other circumstances that would make you eligible, but you’d have to apply or call and speak to a rep at 1-800-318-2596.

Outside of life qualifying events, you’re on your own. You can still find a “short-term” health insurance plan on a private exchange or directly with insurance providers – but you won’t be eligible for a subsidy, and you may still have to pay the individual mandate penalty because these plans are not considered minimum essential coverage. They are also not guaranteed-issue and do not cover pre-existing conditions.

Good stuff to know for when life happens. And it will eventually. Discussion:

  • Did you sign up for a health insurance marketplace plan? Under what circumstances?
  • Have you been happy with your plan thus far?
  • Do you expect a qualifying life event this year that might lead to you signing up for a plan through the health insurance marketplace?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 10,000+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Colin B. says:

    First of all, great website. People our age need information that they can understand, you have it down.

    Just 1 comment on this article. Insurers will NOT sell direct plans outside of open enrollment. So, the second to last paragraph “You can still purchase a private plan on a private exchange or directly with insurance providers” is incorrect. Think about it, the penalty is for not having insurance for 3 months in a row. If everyone could hop on and off insurance plans, with no pre-existing condition restrictions, why would they stay on and pay for the plan every month? It would be far too easy for sick people with pre-existing conditions to hop on a guaranteed issue, which all now are, plan and only use it when they are sick. People who just don’t want to pay a fine could hop on every 3rd month and skirt it.

    All insurance enrollment in the individual market, private or otherwise, will happen ONLY during open enrollment. Outside of that, you are plain screwed. If you get sick, good luck. I know it isn’t a rosy picture but it is what has been painted. I’m a licensed life+health agent in California, also Covered CA certified, but this will apply nation wide.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      You are correct on the public exchange plans, but in visiting, I found 50 “short term” plans that I can sign up for RIGHT NOW, with this disclaimer: “A short-term health plan is a temporary plan that offers coverage for 30 days up to 12 months and can provide you some protection until you have a qualifying life event or the next Open Enrollment Period begins. Short-term policies are not guaranteed-issue, do not cover pre-existing conditions, and are not considered minimum essential coverage under the Affordable Care Act; so even if you enroll in and maintain short-term coverage, you may still be subject to the tax penalty.”

      Insurers included United Health, Assurant, HCC, IHC Group. Not ideal plans, but something to help limit losses until you have a qualifying event or open enrollment.

      I’ll update the post to clarify further.

      • Colin B says:

        Correct, but if you find out you are sick today, April 17th, no qualifying events, ceteris paribus, you cannot purchase anything that will help mitigate cost. You will front every penny of any bill.

        Even if you want a “short-term” plan, which are not regulated by ACA, you have to go through underwriting and can be denied for any reason, you can’t have a pre-existing condition, you will still be fined (taxed), and essential health benefits are not covered, which is a problem because 84% of members either thought those plans complied or didn’t know, despite a script telling them ( These plans are not viable options, they are for suckers.

  • Rob says:

    No mention of all the people who lost insurance. Are they included in that 7.5m enrollees? Did all those 7.5m enrollees pay for their insurance?

  • Aldo @ MDN says:

    First of all great article. I am 30something but people “our” age tend to dismiss having insurance because we feel invincible. But we have to realize that without insurance we are only an accident away from bankruptcy. You may agree or disagree with the Affordable Care Act but providing health care for millions is a good thing, in my opinion. Thanks for providing a guide of what can do to obtain health care.
    Keep up the good work.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    Health insurance is important to have, so get on it as soon as your are able. Start searching for alternatives if you can’t sign up just yet.


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