It’s that time of year again: open enrollment! 

The Open Enrollment Period (OEP) is generally the only time of year when you can sign up for health insurance or change your existing plan. 

If you’re buying health insurance on your own via the Health Insurance Marketplace, make note of the 2021 open enrollment dates. The deadlines in many states are earlier than in previous years.

When are the 2021 deadlines?

The national health insurance marketplace is, and it’s where you can get health insurance if your state doesn’t have its own healthcare exchange.

The open enrollment period for 2021 lasts from November 1, 2020, to December 15, 2020.

States with their own health insurance marketplaces can choose their own open enrollment dates or stick to the dates. 

Here are the deadlines for state-run exchanges:

StateState Healthcare Exchange2020 Open Enrollment Dates
CaliforniaCovered CaliforniaOctober 15, 2020, to January 15, 2021
Colorado Connect for Health ColoradoNovember 1, 2020, to January 15, 2021
ConnecticutAccess Health CTNovember 1, 2020, to January 15, 2021
District of ColumbiaDC Health LinkNovember 1, 2020, to January 31, 2021
IdahoYour Health IdahoNovember 1, 2020, to December 16, 2020
MarylandMaryland Health ConnectionNovember 1, 2020, to December 15, 2020
Massachusetts Massachusetts Health ConnectorNovember 1, 2020, to January 23, 2021
MinnesotaMNSureNovember 1, 2020, to December 23, 2020
New YorkNY State of HealthNovember 1, 2020, to January 31, 2021
Rhode IslandHealthSource RINovember 1, 2020, to December 31, 2020
VermontVermont Health ConnectNovember 1, 2020, to December 15, 2020
WashingtonWashington Health Plan FinderNovember 1, 2020, to December 15, 2020

Keep in mind that most plans require you to enroll by December 15, 2020, if you want your coverage to begin on January 1, 2021. Enrolling later means your plan may start in a later month, so make sure to check your state’s healthcare exchange for specific deadlines.

What if I miss the enrollment period?

If you miss the Open Enrollment Period, you cannot sign up for a marketplace health insurance plan unless you experience a significant life change, like losing your job or having a baby.

Those major life changes are known as Qualifying Life Events (QLE), and they trigger a Special Enrollment Period (SEP), which is a window outside of open enrollment during which you are allowed to sign up for insurance or make changes to your healthcare plan.

What are some Qualifying Life Events?

There are many different types of Qualifying Life Events, and the Special Enrollment Period that comes with each differs.

Here’s a quick rundown.

If you have one of the following QLEs, you’ll have up to 60 days afterward to complete your health insurance enrollment:

  • A marriage
  • A new child. This includes having a baby, adopting a child, or placing a child for foster care.
  • A divorce or legal separation—but only if it causes you to lose your health insurance.
  • The death of someone on your health insurance plan, if that death makes you ineligible for your current plan.
  • A move. You must prove that you had health insurance for at least one out of the 60 days before you moved or that you previously lived in a foreign country or U.S. territory.

Losing your health insurance also qualifies you for a Special Enrollment Period. You can enroll in health insurance via a SEP if you lost health insurance in the previous 60 days or expect to lose your insurance in the next 60 days.

You’re considered to be losing your insurance if you:

  • Lose your job,
  • Become ineligible for Medicaid, CHIP, or Medicare, or
  • Lose coverage through a family member.

A variety of other life changes may make you eligible for a Special Enrollment Period. These changes include but are not limited to:

  • Being released from incarceration
  • Becoming a U.S. citizen
  • Ending your term as AmeriCorps State and National, VISTA, or NCCC member

A health insurance broker can help determine your eligibility.  

In rare cases, a Special Enrollment Period may be granted if you miss the open enrollment window for reasons outside your control—like spousal abuse or a natural disaster. If you believe this applies to you, contact either or your state marketplace administrator to discuss your options.

If you are a member of a federally recognized American Indian tribe or a shareholder of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) Corporation of American Indian or Alaska Native heritage, you are qualified for year-round enrollment. 

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