When you buy a car, you can buy insurance anytime. (Just as long as you don’t get caught driving without it!) Health insurance works much differently. Open enrollment for health insurance is only offered once a year for a short period of time. For those who get insurance benefits through their workplace, open enrollment usually happens in the fall. Employers have some say over when open enrollment for the company is offered, so they’re responsible for notifying staff members in advance.
For those who buy their own health insurance, the open enrollment period starts on November 1. This year, the window to enroll has been extended through January 15, 2023, so everyone has a little more time to choose a plan. You could wait until the last minute, but why would you? Choosing a plan is way easier than it seems, and if you start now, you’ll have more time to weigh your options.
The answer isn’t great: You’ll likely be without health insurance for the rest of the year until the next open enrollment period. The only way to get health insurance outside of the open enrollment window is if you have a qualifying life event.
If none of those apply to you, you’re out of luck. Depending on which state you live in, you might get slapped with hefty fines, too. The Affordable Care Act is no longer enforcing tax penalties for not having insurance, but states can still opt to fine residents for going without. California residents, for example, can be fined at least $850 for a single adult without insurance.
In addition to fines, not having insurance is like playing with fire. If you happen to fall seriously ill or get injured, you’ll be on the hook for all your medical bills. Considering that just the ride to the hospital can cost about $1,200, it’s not worth the risk.
If you do miss open enrollment, check first to see if you have any qualifying life events. If not, check if you qualify for Medicaid. The elderly, people with disabilities, pregnant women, and anyone earning below a certain income level are eligible, and you can enroll in Medicaid at any time. If you apply for it during open enrollment and are notified that you’re ineligible, you’ll have 60 days to enroll in a different health plan.
If all of these options fall through, consider signing up for a short-term health insurance plan. This provides members a temporary option to bridge the gap until the next open enrollment period. Concierge medicine that offers online appointments, faster appointments, and no copays can also serve as a temporary option. Concierge medicine doesn’t cover hospital visits and surgeries, however. Even if you join a concierge plan, it’s important to enroll in a conventional health plan as soon as possible.
Even if you have insurance now, open enrollment gives you a chance to reevaluate and pick a plan that fits your needs this year, not last. For example, if your allergies have gotten out of control, a PPO plan will give you the flexibility to see any allergist you want. If there’s a particular primary care doctor your best friend adores, now’s your chance to make a change. Change is good! Instead of seeing open enrollment as a stressful experience, see it as an opportunity to take great care of yourself in 2023.
Thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, some people who previously didn’t qualify for assistance in paying for health coverage are now eligible. Almost everyone qualifies for additional tax credits. In effect, health insurance premiums are lower across the board, and will stay that way through at least 2025.
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