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 plan selections during open enrollment, as long as you complete the final plan change by the end of open enrollment. For 2019 coverage, open enrollment ended December 15, 2018 in all but eight states and the District of Columbia. In California and Colorado, open enrollment has been permanently adjusted so that it will always extend into the new year.
But in most states, open enrollment ended on December 15, and it’s no longer possible to change your mind after the start of the year. Prior to 2018, people whose plans were auto-renewed were able to return to the exchange in January and pick a different plan, but that’s no longer an option for most enrollees.
If your coverage is being terminated because your insurer is exiting the market in your county, the exchange will pick a new plan for you if you don’t select one yourself during open enrollment (if you have an off-exchange plan, you’ll need to pick your own replacement plan to avoid being uninsured on January 1). But you’ll also qualify for a special enrollment period triggered by loss of coverage. If that applies in your case, you’ll be able to pick a plan other than the one the exchange picked for you, and you’ll have the first 60 days of the new year to make your plan selection.
If you enroll in a plan early in open enrollment and then change your mind before open enrollment is over, 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 current premiums are automatically drafted from your bank account, 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 (including off-exchange, unless you live in Nevada) 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.