Q. If I already enrolled in a plan for the new year, can I change my mind and pick a different plan instead?
A. You can make multiple health insurance plan selections during open enrollment, as long as you complete the final plan change by the end of open enrollment. For 2021 coverage, open enrollment ended on December 15, 2020 in most states, although some states have extended deadlines — several of which continue into January 2021.
After open enrollment ends, you can only make changes to your coverage if you experience a qualifying event.
If your coverage was terminated because your insurer is exiting the market in your area (New Mexico Health Connections is an example of this for 2021), the exchange picked a new plan for you if you didn’t select one yourself during open enrollment. If you had an off-exchange plan that terminated at the end of 2020, you had to pick your own replacement plan by December 31, 2020 to avoid being uninsured on January 1.
But your special enrollment period triggered by loss of coverage also extends for the first 60 days of the new year (albeit with a gap in coverage if you enroll on January 1 or later and were not auto-enrolled into a replacement plan by the exchange). So if your plan was terminated at the end of 2020, you have the first 60 days of 2021 to select a plan other than the one the exchange picked for you (note that HealthCare.gov allows this option, but if you’re enrolled in a plan through a state-run exchange that maps people in this situation to new coverage, you may or may not have a special enrollment period at the start of the new year).
If you enrolled in a plan early in open enrollment and then changed your mind before open enrollment ended, you could log back into your exchange account and pick a different plan (this option is still available as of early January in the states where open enrollment is ongoing; the new plan would then take effect in February — or March, depending on the date you enroll — and replace the plan that had taken effect in January. If you need help or have questions about this, you can contact the exchange and follow its instructions for making a plan change. Make a note of who helped you, and get an incident number to keep track of the steps you’ve taken.
Be aware that the cancellation of your existing policy could take a while, especially during open enrollment when the exchanges and carries are very busy. Generally, if you enroll through the exchange, you have to initiate the cancellation request through the exchange, and they’ll transmit it to the carrier. (If you’re enrolled in an off-exchange plan, you’ll submit your cancellation request directly to your carrier.)
If your premiums are automatically drafted from your bank account and you’re switching to a different plan, you can request a change to paper billing; in most cases, this can be done directly through the carrier. Then, if there’s a delay in processing your cancellation request, you won’t be inadvertently paying for two plans at the same time.
Make sure you pay any premiums due on the current plan to cover you until the new plan takes effect, so you don’t end up with gaps in coverage.
After the end of open enrollment in your state, you won’t be able to make a plan change for the rest of the year unless you have a qualifying event.
Louise Norris is an individual health insurance broker who has been writing about health insurance and health reform since 2006. She has written dozens of opinions and educational pieces about the Affordable Care Act for healthinsurance.org. Her state health exchange updates are regularly cited by media who cover health reform and by other health insurance experts.