What is Open Enrollment?

Learn about when open enrollment for health insurance plans starts.

Published September 11, 2019

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What you need to know

For people who do not have employer-provided health insurance, Open Enrollment is the period every year where you can shop for and purchase health insurance on the state, federal, or private marketplaces. Open Enrollment for 2020 started on November 1, 2019, and ended on December 15, 2019, for plans purchased on the federal Obamacare marketplace. Open enrollment to get health insurance coverage in 2021 will begin on November 1, 2020, and end on December 15, 2020.

States that run their own exchanges may have extended Open Enrollment Periods. For example, New York's open enrollment period began on November 1, 2019, and ended on January 31, 2020. You're no longer required by federal law to have coverage, but you may still need health insurance to pay your health care expenses.

You cannot purchase health insurance, including supplemental health insurance, on the Obamacare marketplace outside of Open Enrollment unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. You may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period if you changed jobs, got married or divorced, had a child, moved your residence, or turned 26.

Learn more about how health insurance works.

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The Open Enrollment Period and Special Enrollment Periods were created in order to enforce the health insurance mandate. However, although the mandate is no longer in effect, people who buy health insurance on the marketplace will still need to wait for one of these periods.

Because health insurance companies must cover people regardless of preexisting medical conditions, the Affordable Care Act mandates that everyone, even if they are healthy, buy health insurance. Premiums from healthier customers who do not frequently use health services help offset the cost of covering individuals who do frequently use health services.

Learn more about the different types of health insurance.

Affordable health care during open enrollment

If you need affordable health insurance while shopping on the market, you have two options:

Get a cheaper type of health insurance. HMOs may cover less of your health care expenses and have more restrictions for getting care, but they may cost less than PPOs, which cover much more and are easier to use. Learn the difference between HMOs and PPOs.

Get a plan with a lower metal tier. The metal tiers represent how much of your care you'll pay out of pocket, although in theory they should not affect the quality of your care.

Regardless of your plan, if you bought it from the Obamacare marketplace, then it must cover the 10 essential health benefits.

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Health insurance and life insurance work together to offer financial protection.

Health insurance can pay your medical expenses. Life insurance keeps your loved ones whole after you die.