You’ve been slammed at work, left a few emails unread, ignored a newsletter or two — and just like that, you’ve missed open enrollment. Now what? Don’t panic. Missing open enrollment either at work or on the individual health insurance marketplace isn’t the end of the world. You still have a few options.
What Is Open Enrollment?
Open enrollment is the period during which you can make changes to your health benefits plan or enroll in a plan for the first time. In 2018, open enrollment for individual market plans runs from November 1 to December 15. Each employer sets its own open enrollment period, but they generally take place at similar times and last between two and four weeks. Blink and you might miss it.
What happens if you do? Missing open enrollment generally means you can’t make changes or enroll in a standard health insurance plan until the following year. This could be a blow to your health and finances — if you’re not covered, you could have to choose between paying for expenses out of pocket and skipping care.
What Should You Do If You’ve Missed Open Enrollment?
There are several options open to you after missing open enrollment. If you’re dreading the thought of heading into the new year without insurance, pause and ask yourself the following questions.
- Does open enrollment actually apply to me? Most people — but not all — have to make their insurance changes within the open enrollment period. Native Americans and those who qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can enroll year-round.
- Do I qualify for a special enrollment period? There are exceptions to open enrollment if you’ve been through a major life event, including getting married, having or adopting a child, moving or turning 26. Check to see if you’ve hit one of the qualifying milestones — you might have a second chance at enrollment after all.
- Can I go through my partner’s employee benefits? If your spouse or partner’s open enrollment period is still running, look into enrolling in a plan with them under their employer.
- What about my parents’ insurance? Similarly, while you might be independent in a lot of ways, if you’re under the age of 26, you can give yourself a break and join your parents’ plan if their enrollment period is still going or they’re eligible for a special enrollment period. Even if you’re working, a student, married or all three put together, the option still stands.
- What are my options for short-term insurance? If you can’t get coverage through the above routes, consider purchasing a short-term plan to fill the gaps. You can add these plans whenever you want or need them — no enrollment period required. A short term plan can cover you until you qualify for a special enrollment period, or even all year. Don’t be fooled by the word “short” — these plans can still help you out throughout the year. Thanks to a recent change, after October 2, 2018, short-term policies can extend up to 364 days, with the option to renew for up to three years (though some states have set their own limits, so check your area’s regulations before diving into a plan).
- Could I use a supplemental health care plan? Like short-term coverage, supplemental plans like critical illness, accident or fixed indemnity insurance can be initiated at any time. While these plans are primarily used to add extra protection to a standard policy, with the 2019 removal of the individual mandate penalty, it’s possible to use supplemental policies to cover yourself in case of the worst without owing the government money. If you’re considering using supplemental plans — on top of a short-term plan or not — to get you through to next year’s open enrollment, be sure to understand exactly what they cover. The last thing you want is to find out too late that you don’t have the protection you thought you did.
Missing open enrollment doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. In fact, it means just the opposite. Roll up your sleeves and make sure you get the coverage you need — and next year, remember to mark your calendar.