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Affordable health insurance: Obamacare

Even if you had great coverage in 2016, it's worth shopping around

The Affordable Care Act’s fourth open enrollment period begins less than five weeks from now (on November 1). It’s definitely not too early to start thinking about the enrollment process – even if you already have ACA-compliant coverage.

That’s right: even if you carefully selected a plan for 2016 – a plan that truly represented the best value for you – that plan may not be your best value in 2017. A lot can change in one year, including the amount of your subsidy (if your area’s benchmark plan changes). That, and you may find that you have access to new plans that have been made available – possibly with lower premiums, different provider networks, or a better overall value.

For these reasons, all enrollees are encouraged to shop around during open enrollment to compare all of their options for 2017. For a more detailed explanation of why you might not want to auto-renew your policy, read Reenrolling: Should I stay or should I go? from our updated Insider’s Guide to Obamacare’s Open Enrollment.

Do you have to wait until November?

Though millions of Americans are eagerly waiting for annual open enrollment period, that doesn’t mean that you should assume that ACA-compliant coverage is necessarily out of reach for you.

You may be able to buy an ACA-compliant major medical policy right now if you’ve had a qualifying event – a major life change – that makes you eligible for a special enrollment period.

Everything you need to know about Obamacare’s special enrollment periods.

No qualifying event?

And even if you’re not eligible for a special enrollment period, you still don’t have to wait for health coverage until November (and we strongly advise that you don’t).

For those who haven’t yet enrolled and aren’t expecting a qualifying event, the options for the rest of 2016 will be limited to policies that are not regulated by the ACA. This includes short-term health insurance, some limited-benefit plans, accident supplements, critical/specific-illness policies, dental/vision plans, and medical discount plans.

Reasons to get and maintain health coverage

As time passes, most Americans are getting the message that it’s getting easier to research and buy coverage – whether it’s through the exchanges (where subsidies are available) or off-exchange.

Thanks to improved online tools, it’s easier than ever to compare health plans – from benefits to premiums and out-of-pocket expenses – while the federal government has mandated improved transparency regarding networks and formulary information.

Of course, by purchasing coverage, you can also avoid or minimize an Obamacare penalty established through the ACA’s individual mandate. Those penalties increased again in 2016 for people who are uninsured and not exempt from the requirement to have health insurance. For 2017 and beyond, the flat-rate penalty will be adjusted annually for inflation, although the percentage of income penalty will remain at 2.5 percent going forward.

But most important of all, it simply makes sense to cover yourself and your family with an ACA-compliant plan that covers the essential health benefits and offers a full range of consumer protections – including protection from staggering financial burdens that result from medical care.

About us: your guide to individual and family health insurance

At healthinsurance.org, we don’t sell insurance, but we do partner with qualified call centers staffed with agents who are both licensed in your state and exchange-certified. These partnerships also allow us to deliver health insurance quotes quickly and easily.

Since 1994, this site has been a guide for consumers seeking straightforward explanations about the workings of individual health insurance – also known as medical insurance – and help finding affordable coverage.

The topic of insurance can be confusing, but we’re here with more information than ever: educational articles, expert health policy analysisfrequently asked questions about reform, a health insurance glossary, and guides to the healthcare marketplaces and other insurance resources in each state.

Don’t hesitate to let us know if you hit a snag in the process – or if you’re stumped by a question about health coverage. Of course, we’d also love to hear about your success in getting coverage and quality healthcare.

But today, with the complexities of premium subsidies, cost-sharing subsidies, penalties – and now qualifying events and special enrollment periods – it’s a smart move to talk to a professional who can help minimize your cost and maximize your benefits, and save you research time. Call 1-877-809-0501 to get free assistance.

Open Enrollment 2017

What: The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) open enrollment period for 2017 coverage.
When: November 1, 2016 to January 31, 2017
Where: Right here at healthinsurance.org
How: Get free health insurance quotes online or call toll free 1-844-337-4826

Special dates to take note of:

  • November 1, 2016: First day you can enroll in, re-enroll, or change a 2017 insurance plan. Your coverage can start as soon as January 1, 2017.
  • December 15, 2016: The last day to enroll in or change plans for coverage to start January 1, 2017. If you have not completed your enrollment by this date, you may need a short term health insurance plan to bridge the gap to your 2017 coverage.
  • January 1, 2017: 2017 coverage starts for those who enrolled or changed plans by the December 15 deadline.
  • January 31, 2017: The last day to enroll in or change a 2017 health plan. After this date, you need to qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.