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 always 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 it extended into January in some states.
COVID-related enrollment period in 2021
After open enrollment ends, you can normally only make changes to your coverage if you experience a qualifying event. But there’s a COVID-related enrollment period in 2021, which continues through August 15, 2021 in most states. During this window, a qualifying event is not necessary. Uninsured residents can enroll in coverage, and it’s also an opportunity for current enrollees to switch to a different plan in order to take advantage of the enhanced premium subsidies created by the American Rescue Plan.
Plans that terminate at year-end
If you’re enrolled in a plan through the exchange and your coverage terminates at the end of the year because your insurer exits the market in your area, 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 that terminates at the end of the year, you have to pick a new plan for yourself by December 31 in order 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 terminates on December 31, you have the first 60 days of the new year 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).
Multiple plan selections during open enrollment
As noted above, 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 available even after the start of the new year, in state-run exchanges that offer extended enrollment periods that continue into January). In that case, 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 (but again, the rules are different in 2021, as a result of the ongoing COVID pandemic and the need to give people an opportunity to take advantage of the American Rescue Plan’s enhancement to the ACA’s premium subsidies).
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.