Enrolling in health insurance can be a complicated process, and even the most conscientious individuals can miss an open enrollment period. While the deadline to enroll in many 2017 health insurance plans has passed, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services outline two ways you may still be able to enroll in health coverage for the rest of 2017: through a Special Enrollment Period or through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
The Special Enrollment Period applies when you experience certain types of life changes such as losing job-based health coverage, COBRA coverage or coverage through a family member. Other changes include changes in residence, marital status or citizenship status. You can find out if you qualify by answering a few questions online, or if you know you will qualify you can apply online as well.
Many don’t know that you can apply for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or CHIP any time during the year, there is no enrollment period. Medicare also offers an online resource to determine if you qualify, and you can also apply immediately.
If you aren’t expecting a qualifying event later in the year, the options for the rest of 2017 will be limited to policies that are not regulated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This could include:
- Short-term health insurance, which is designed to provide temporary coverage when you’re in between jobs, waiting for other coverage such as Medicare to begin or if you’re outside open enrollment and in need of coverage. Starting on January 1, 2017, these plans are capped at coverage for three months. You should learn exactly what is covered by these plans before enrolling, as certain events are not included, such as maternity, preventive care or mental health treatment. It’s important to understand that short-term plans do not meet the minimum essential coverage of the ACA, so there may be tax penalties. You should consult with a tax advisor to learn all the associated costs before enrolling in a short-term plan.
- Limited benefit plans, which cover lower and more restricted benefits, but with lower premiums than major medical coveage. These plans could include critical-illness plans and accident supplements, but should not be considered to serve as your only medical coverage.
The best thing to do if you’ve missed open enrollment is to understand your options. You can contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid by calling 1.800.318.2596 or by finding local help using their online search tool.