What's an Open Enrollment Period?

Maybe you’ve heard of the open enrollment period (OEP) for health insurance. Or maybe you haven’t—but either way, there are a lot of questions and misconceptions that circulate every year when it’s time to enroll in a health insurance plan. We want to help you understand what the open enrollment period is, what it means for you and how you can find the best health plan for you during this time.

What does open enrollment mean in health insurance?
The open enrollment period, also known as OEP, is the annual period of time when individuals can enroll in Qualified Health Plan either through the federal Marketplace or a private insurer like Priority Health.

How long is the open enrollment period? When does it start?
For 2020 plans, the open enrollment period runs from Nov. 1, 2019 through Dec. 15, 2019. During this time, you’re free to enroll in an individual or family health insurance plan.

How does the open enrollment period for health insurance work?
During OEP, you can enroll yourself and/or your family in a health insurance plan for the following year. You can purchase a plan from a trusted health insurance company or through the Marketplace. Be aware that not all insurers’ plans are available on the Marketplace, as individual insurers may offer more choices if you shop with them directly. You can also consult with a licensed insurance agent if you would like more assistance choosing a plan.

Can I sign up for health insurance after the open enrollment period?
You will need to enroll or renew your health plan before Dec. 15, 2019 to have health coverage for 2020. If you miss the deadline, you won’t be eligible for coverage unless you experience a qualifying life event (QLE). This can include life events like getting married, having a baby or moving to a new location. A QLE gives you the opportunity to enroll during a special enrollment period (SEP). Otherwise, you’ll need to wait until the next OEP and pay a penalty when you file your federal tax return.

Can I buy health insurance at any time?
You can only purchase health insurance during the open enrollment period or if you qualify for a special enrollment period. For 2020 plans, the open enrollment period occurs Nov. 1, 2019 through Dec. 15, 2019.

Special enrollment is the exception to open enrollment.
If you’ve experienced a qualifying life event you may be eligible for a special enrollment period. Qualifying life events include:

  • Loss of essential coverage
  • Loss of COBRA benefits
  • Marriage
  • Birth
  • Permanent relocation
  • Divorce
  • Adoption
  • Death of previous policy holder
  • Named legal guardian
  • New foster child
  • Change in citizenship
  • Newly eligible for government assistance

An unexpected medical event or injury does not qualify you to enroll in health insurance during a special enrollment period. In all cases, you’ll need to provide proof of your life event, such as a marriage or birth certificate, so make sure to have those documents handy when applying.

Depending on your specific circumstance, you’re only allowed 60 days from the day of your qualifying life event to change or enroll in health insurance. If you don’t take action by the deadline, you could find yourself without coverage until the next open enrollment period.

Shopping for a new insurance plan during the open enrollment period can be confusing, but with research, helpful tools and consideration, choosing a new plan for 2020 doesn’t have to be difficult.