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?
A. Starting in 2018, yes, unless you experience a qualifying event later in the year.
Open enrollment for 2018 coverage starts on November 1, 2017, and continues until December 15, 2017; you can enroll in a new plan at any time during that window. This schedule will apply in all of the 39 states that use HealthCare.gov, although state-run exchanges with their own enrollment platform have some flexibility; Colorado has announced that they’ll add a special enrollment period that will essentially make their open enrollment period run from November 1, 2017, through January 12, 2018 (other state-run exchanges might also add extensions to the open enrollment period for 2018 coverage).
But by and large, open enrollment will end on December 15, and all plans selected during open enrollment will be effective January 1 (this same schedule will be used in future years as well, in every state). And unlike prior years, it will no longer be possible to make changes during January without a qualifying event.
There will be people who let their 2017 plans auto-renew and will find out in January that their after-subsidy premium has changed more than they expected it to. There will also be people who find themselves auto-renewed into a similar — but not the same — plan, due to their 2017 plan being replaced with a new plan for 2018.
Shorter open enrollment is 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 includes 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.