If I don’t make changes to my plan and just let it auto-renew for January, am I stuck with it for the rest of the year?

Q. If I don’t make changes to my plan and just let it auto-renew for January, am I stuck with it for the rest of the year?

Obamacare open enrollment guide

Our updated Insider’s Guide to Obamacare’s Open Enrollment offers time-saving strategies for selecting coverage during open enrollment. (Click the image for the latest edition.)

A. Starting in 2018, yes, unless you experience a qualifying event later in the year.

Open enrollment for 2018 coverage ran from November 1, 2017, until December 15, 2017. This schedule applied in all of the 39 states that use HealthCare.gov, although state-run exchanges with their own enrollment platform had some flexibility, and 10 of the 12 extended open enrollment beyond December 15, with seven of them extending open enrollment into January 2018.

But in most states, open enrollment ended before the start of 2018, with all plans selected during open enrollment taking effect on January 1 (this same schedule will be used in future years as well, in every state). So unlike prior years (when open enrollment always extended into January), it’s no longer possible in most states to make changes during January without a qualifying event.

Without a doubt, there are people who let their 2017 plans auto-renew and found out in January that their after-subsidy premium had changed more than they expected it to. Unfortunately, people in this situation are largely stuck with their plan unless they experience a qualifying event later in the year.

But there are also people who found themselves auto-renewed into a similar — but not the same — plan, due to their 2017 plan being replaced with a new plan for 2018. If your 2017 plan terminated at the end of the year and you were mapped to a replacement plan because you didn’t pick your own replacement during open enrollment, you still have a special enrollment period that continues for 60 days after your plan ended (so, until March 1, 2018). During that special enrollment period, you can pick from among any of the available options in your area.

Read more about why it’s important to shop around and why auto-renewal probably is not your best bet.

Shorter open enrollment was new for 2018

Open enrollment for 2016 and 2017 followed a November 1 — January 31 schedule, and was slated to be the same for 2018 coverage as well. After that, starting with enrollment in the fall of 2018 (for 2019 coverage) it was scheduled to switch to November 1 — December 15. But in April 2017, HHS finalized a market stabilization rule that included a switch to the shorter open enrollment period one year early — in the fall of 2017 instead of 2018.

Going forward, open enrollment will continue to follow the November 1 — December 15 schedule, with coverage effective January 1.