Update to below: the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 added a number of enhancements to ACA plans and President Biden has extended the ACA special enrollment period to August 15 to give extra time for people to take advantage.
More people covered with health insurance is a good thing, particularly in the middle of the crippling health and economic consequences of a COVID-19 pandemic that has resulted in a significant number of unemployed Americans losing employer-sponsored health insurance. And with that basic premise, the Biden administration has decided to re-open Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollment for a special open enrollment period beyond the typical 6-week end-of-year ACA open enrollment period, to help Americans get health insurance and fight the pandemic.
The new special open enrollment period will allow anyone who would like to enroll in an ACA plan (i.e. no documented proof of a qualifying life event needed) to do so, for a 3-month period, in most states. It’s also expected that those who currently have an ACA plan will be able to switch plans during the special enrollment period, if they would like.
There is a bit of variation on timeline, depending on your state of residence, as a number of states run their own exchanges and determine their own enrollment periods. Here are the timelines for the special open enrollment period and where you can find out more information and enroll:
- The 36 states that use HealthCare.Gov for their exchange (those states not listed below): Feb. 15 – May 15
- California: Feb. 1 – May 15
- Colorado: Feb. 8 – May 15
- Connecticut: Feb. 15 – Mar. 15
- District of Columbia: “now through the end of the pandemic”
- Idaho: Mar. 1 – Mar. 31
- Maryland: now through March 15
- Massachusetts: now through May 23
- Minnesota: Feb. 16 – May 17
- Nevada: Feb. 15 – May 15
- New Jersey: now through May 15
- New York: now through March 31
- Pennsylvania: Feb. 15 – May 15
- Rhode Island: Feb. 15 – May 15
- Vermont: Feb. 16 – May 14
- Washington State: Feb. 15 – May 15
As I wrote about previously, there are a number of health insurance options for newly unemployed and uninsured individuals:
- You can get added to your spouse or domestic partner’s plan.
- You can keep your former employer’s health insurance through COBRA.
- You can sign up for an ACA marketplace plan on healthcare.gov or through a state healthcare exchange.
- Sign-up for Medicaid, CHIP (for Dependent Children), or Medicare.
There are other options too, but these are the 4 legitimate (non-junky) ones.
Outside of open enrollment periods, the ACA requires a qualifying life event in order to be eligible to register for a “special enrollment period”. There are many qualifying events for special enrollment outside of open enrollment, including losing employer-based health insurance (typically within 60 days, but you may still be eligible if it was beyond 60 days and verifiably due to COVID-19).
It’s important to emphasize that if you do have a qualifying life event, you are eligible to enroll at any time and do not have to wait for an open enrollment period. I do not think a lot of people are aware with this.
You can also apply and enroll in Medicaid (through healthcare.gov) or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) at any time. There are no limited open enrollment periods for these programs, for eligible enrollees. Also, members of federally recognized tribes and Alaska native shareholders are eligible to enroll any time.
With the new ACA special enrollment period (or any open enrollment period) – you do not need a qualifying life event in order to enroll. Anyone can register, so long as they aren’t already covered by another qualified health insurance plan. Hence, the phrase “open enrollment”.
Get insured and stay healthy, my friends!