Missing a deadline to enroll in health insurance is frustrating, to say the least. The bad news is that it’s really easy to miss your chance. The government’s open enrollment period occurs between November 1 and December 15. That’s not a lot of time. While employers’ open enrollment periods can take place any time of the year, they may have an even shorter window. So what’s the good news? You don’t necessarily have to wait another year to get coverage — you have other opportunities to enroll.
Here are a few situations where changing health insurance is possible, even outside of open enrollment.
A few specific life events trigger what’s called a special enrollment period — a window of time, typically 60 days, during which you can enroll in health insurance just as you would during the normal open enrollment period.
First, if you involuntarily lose coverage — whether due to a job loss or another reason entirely — you and any spouse or children previously covered under your plan are eligible to enroll in either a Marketplace health insurance plan or a new employer’s plan. Similarly, if you were covered under a spouse’s insurance policy and your spouse involuntarily loses coverage, you also have an opportunity to enroll. If you’re covered under your spouse’s plan and you get divorced or your spouse dies, you’re also eligible.
But not all qualifying life events are so grim. If you get married or have a new child, you can enroll in coverage that you may previously have declined. Also, after a big move (even just to another zip code or county), you may qualify for another opportunity to enroll.
If none of these special enrollment periods apply to you, a short-term plan might be a good solution. These health plans are a less expensive way to get basic coverage. You won’t get all the frills of a standard insurance plan — this kind of policy usually excludes coverage for preexisting conditions and doesn’t offer the full suite of benefits that a minimum essential coverage plan normally would.
But short-term insurance can help fill gaps, whether you missed open enrollment or find yourself without coverage for another reason. In some states, these plans can last for up to 364 days, with the possibility of up to two renewals. The best part is that you can enroll at any time of the year. This isn’t a permanent solution, but it can be a big help while you’re between plans.
A supplemental plan like critical illness and accident or fixed indemnity insurance is another way to get coverage if you don’t have access to a full plan or when you’ve done your research and know you might need additional coverage for specific issues such as cancer treatment or injuries. You don’t need to change health insurance to enroll in a supplemental plan — just like short-term policies, these plans aren’t restricted by an open enrollment period. (And like short-term insurance, supplemental plans don’t protect preexisting conditions or offer comprehensive benefits.)
As you may have guessed, open enrollment is generally the ideal time to enroll in a health insurance plan. If you miss it, though, it’s not the end of the world. You have plenty of opportunities for changing health insurance outside of open enrollment, whether you need to sign up for a full plan or get partial coverage that can protect you from expensive medical costs before next year rolls around.