What is Open Enrollment?

The 2021 open enrollment period, which allows you to buy health insurance coverage for 2022, starts on Nov. 1, 2021 and ends on Jan. 15, 2022.

Derek Silva


Derek Silva

Derek Silva

Senior Editor & Personal Finance Expert

Derek is a former senior editor and personal finance expert at Policygenius, where he specialized in financial data, taxes, estate planning, and investing. Previously, he was a staff writer at SmartAsset.

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Open enrollment is the period every year where you can shop for and purchase a health insurance plan for the upcoming year. If you are buying an insurance plan through the state, federal, or private marketplaces, open enrollment is Nov. 1, 2021 to Jan. 15, 2022. Any health insurance plan you purchase will take effect for 2022. If you receive health insurance through your employer, your employer may offer a shorter open enrollment period, but their dates will still fall sometime between Nov. 1 and Jan. 15.

Key Takeaways

  • Open enrollment 2021 is Nov. 15, 2021, to Jan. 15, 2022, for Obamacare plans that you buy on the federal exchange, although some states may have longer open enrollment periods

  • For health insurance coverage starting Jan. 1, 2022, make sure to purchase a plan by Dec. 15, 2021

  • Each employer can choose the dates and length of their open enrollment period, but their dates must fall between Nov. 15, 2021, and Jan. 15, 2022

What is open enrollment?

The open enrollment period is the time each year when you can purchase a health insurance plan for the upcoming year (or for the rest of the current year in certain cases). Open enrollment for Obamacare plans is usually November 1 through December 15, but the Biden Administration has extended the 2021 open enrollment until January 15 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The open enrollment period was created in order to enforce the health insurance mandate. Although the mandate is no longer in effect, people who buy health insurance on the marketplace will still need to wait for this period to buy coverage (unless they qualify for a special enrollment period).

Related: Health Insurance 101, all the information you need to finally understand health insurance

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When is open enrollment for health insurance?

Open enrollment for Obamacare plans is Nov. 1, 2021 to Jan. 15, 2022. Any plan you purchase by December 15 will provide coverage starting on Jan. 1, 2022. If you buy a plan during open enrollment between December 15 and January 1, your plan should take effect by Jan. 15, 2022, as long as you pay your first premium on time. Likewise, if you buy a plan between January 1 and January 15, your plan should take effect on February 1, 2022. [1]

For anyone who has employer-sponsored health insurance, your employer can set the dates for their open enrollment period but it should fall within the window of November 1 and January 15 (or later if you live in a state with an extended open enrollment period) for plans that take effect in 2022.

If you’re buying coverage for other programs, like Medicare or Medicaid, they have their own enrollment periods that may or may not be the same as the open enrollment period for health insurance. Similarly, buying certain types of supplemental health insurance may happen during separate open enrollment dates.

Learn more about the different types of health insurance.

How to buy health insurance during open enrollment

If you get health insurance through your employer, they should notify you of when and how to elect coverage for the upcoming year.

If you aren’t getting health coverage through your work, you can shop for and buy a health insurance plan through the marketplace. Most states use the federal marketplace — HealthCare.gov — but 17 states and Washington, D.C. do have their own state-based marketplaces where residents can buy coverage. States that run their own marketplaces may also offer extended open enrollment periods.

Learn more in our state-by-state guide to Obamacare open enrollment.

Which states have their own marketplace?

The following 18 states will use their own marketplaces where residents can buy insurance plans for 2022:

  • California

  • Colorado

  • Connecticut

  • District of Columbia 

  • Idaho

  • Kentucky

  • Maine

  • Maryland

  • Massachusetts

  • Minnesota

  • Nevada

  • New Jersey

  • New Mexico

  • New York

  • Pennsylvania

  • Rhode Island

  • Vermont

  • Washington

Residents of all other states should use the federal exchange to shop for and enroll in their next health insurance plan.

How to get health insurance after open enrollment

If you need to buy health insurance coverage outside of open enrollment, you can only do so during a special enrollment period. Special enrollment periods are available after certain life events that can affect your insurance coverage, such as getting married or divorced, having a child, leaving a job, or starting a new job. Events that qualify you for special enrollment are called qualifying life events (QLEs).

Finding affordable health care during open enrollment

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

Consider a cheaper type of health insurance. The premiums you pay for your plan depend on many factors, but choosing an HMO instead of another type of plan may also help lower your monthly premium. HMO plans 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.

Choose a plan with a lower metal tier. The metal tiers represent how much of your care you'll pay out of pocket, though the tier you get should not affect the quality of your care. All plans you buy on the marketplace (and most employer-sponsored plans) must cover the 10 essential health benefits.

Apply for a subsidy. Health insurance subsidies help lower the cost you need to pay out of pocket for marketplace plans. How much of a subsidy you can receive depends on multiple factors, like your income and the cost of plans in your area. The most common health insurance subsidy is the advance premium tax credit (APTC).