What Is an Open Enrollment Period?

Open Enrollment Dates May Vary

Open Enrollment Begins For Third Year Of Affordable Care Act
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Open enrollment is a period of time each year when you can sign up for health insurance. If you don't sign up for health insurance during open enrollment, you probably can't sign up for health insurance until the next open enrollment period.

If you’re eligible and apply for health insurance during open enrollment, the health plan must insure you. The company is not allowed to use underwriting or require evidence of insurability, both of which could make it harder for you to get health insurance.

What Health Insurance Sources Use Open Enrollment Periods?

Open enrollment periods are common and in place for:

When Is Open Enrollment?

The time of year for open enrollment depends on the health care plan you choose:

Special Enrollment Is the Exception to Open Enrollment

Most insurance sources that use an open enrollment system also have an exception that allows you to enroll outside of open enrollment under extenuating circumstances, frequently called life events. Known as a special enrollment period, this exception allows you to sign up for health insurance if you lost your other health insurance because you:

  • lost your job
  • moved
  • got divorced or married
  • became a widow or widower
  • aged off of a parent's plan
  • let COBRA insurance expired
  • have a new baby

You won't be eligible for a special enrollment period if you lost your other health insurance because you didn't pay the monthly premiums, though.

What Types of Health Insurance Don't Use Open Enrollment?

Most health insurers in the United States use some sort of open enrollment program that limits sign-ups to a particular time each year.

Here are some exceptions:

  • Medicaid, the state-based health insurance, doesn't limit enrollments to an open enrollment period. If you qualify for Medicaid, you can enroll at any time.
  • CHIP, the U.S. government's Children's Health Insurance Program, doesn't limit enrollments to a particular time, either.
  • Travel insurance isn't subject to open enrollment restrictions, either. Due to the short-term nature of travel insurance policies, they're not usually subject to open enrollment. However, some travel insurance companies restrict your ability to purchase a travel insurance policy to the period of time immediately after you book your travel.

More Open Enrollment Opportunities

Most employers allow you to sign up for or change other job-based benefits during open enrollment, also. Generally, you’re only allowed to make these changes during open enrollment. For example, you may be able to:

Also Known As: annual enrollment, annual benefits enrollment

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