An SEP for your growing family

If your family grows during the year due to marriage, birth, adoption, or foster care, you may be eligible for a special enrollment period

If your family grows during the year, you’re eligible for a special enrollment period. There are several situations that can trigger the SEP in this case.

If you become a dependent or gain a dependent as a result of any of those circumstances, you and your dependents are eligible for a 60-day special enrollment period, on or off-exchange.

The marketplace stabilization rule that HHS finalized in 2017 added some new restrictions to the SEP, however, including requirements that at least one new spouse already had coverage in place before the marriage, and that these SEPs cannot be used to “upgrade” coverage to a different metal level — so new parents who already have insurance can add their baby to their plan, or can purchase a separate plan for the baby alone, but cannot switch the whole family to a plan at a higher metal level during the SEP.

In other words, two uninsured people cannot get married in order to gain access to a SEP, and the SEP triggered by gaining a dependent cannot be used as an opportunity for the parent to switch to a plan at a different metal level.

Marriage

If you get married, you have the opportunity to add your spouse to your plan, or shop for a new plan. You have 60 days to enroll, and the effective date will be the first of the month following the plan selection. This is in contrast to the normal effective date rules, which – in most states – require that enrollments be completed by the 15th of the month in order to have coverage effective the first of the following month.

So if you get married on June 5 and enroll in a new health plan on June 30, your coverage will be effective on July 1. Because of the flexibility with effective dates, it may be beneficial for newlyweds to utilize their special enrollment period even if they get married during open enrollment.

For example, a couple who gets married on November 26 and enrolls in a new health plan on November 28 can get a December 1 effective date if they utilize their special enrollment period. Since open enrollment would be ongoing at that point in the year, they’d also have the option of enrolling without a special enrollment period, but their effective date would be January 1.

As of 2017, newlyweds were only eligible for a SEP if at least one spouse already had coverage for at least one of the 60 days prior to the wedding (unless they were living in a U.S. territory or foreign country prior to the marriage, or were both in the Medicaid coverage gap and their combined income moves them out of it, or are Native American). In addition, the marriage SEP can no longer be used as an opportunity to upgrade to a higher metal level, unless the newlyweds are newly eligible or newly ineligible for cost-sharing subsidies, in which case they can switch to (or away from) a silver plan in the exchange, regardless of what metal level their coverage was before the wedding.

Birth, adoption, or placement for foster care or adoption

If you gain a dependent or become a dependent as a result of a birth or adoption, you’re eligible for a special enrollment period. But HHS placed some new restrictions on this SEP as of 2017. The parents do not have to be insured at the time of the birth/adoption for the SEP to apply, but if they are, they can either add the child to their current plan (or another plan at the same metal level, if for some reason, the child cannot be added to the existing plan), or they can enroll the child alone in a new plan at any metal level. If the parents are not insured at the time of the birth/adoption, they can enroll in a plan at any metal level, along with the child. But if they are already insured, they cannot use the birth/adoption as an opportunity for the family to upgrade to a plan at a different metal level.

If a child is placed with you for foster care or adoption, the date that you become responsible for the child’s care is the qualifying event, even if an adoption or foster agreement is pending and has not yet been finalized.

The special enrollment period runs for 60 days following the birth, adoption, or placement for foster care/adoption. The coverage effective date is typically backdated to the date of the birth/adoption/placement, but at the enrollee’s request, the exchange can allow for an effective date of the first of the month after the birth, adoption, or placement for foster care/adoption.

In New York, pregnancy itself is a qualifying event, so pregnant women have the opportunity to enroll in a health plan before the baby is born. They also continue to have a special enrollment period when the baby is born, as is the case in other states. Connecticut lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a similar bill in 2018. Assuming it’s signed into law, uninsured women in Connecticut will have an opportunity to enroll in health coverage in the 30 days after their pregnancy is confirmed by a medical provider.

In the rest of the country, the special enrollment period is only triggered by the birth, not by the pregnancy. But it’s important to note that pregnant women qualify for Medicaid (and in some states, CHIP) with higher household income than the normal guidelines for adults. So even if you wouldn’t otherwise qualify for Medicaid, you might find that you do if you’re pregnant. A pregnant woman is also counted as two people for Medicaid eligibility determination purposes, which helps to increase access to coverage for women whose income would otherwise be too high to qualify for Medicaid. And Medicaid enrollment runs year-round, so if you’re uninsured and pregnant, check to see if you might be able to enroll in Medicaid to have coverage during your pregnancy.

Child support order

In 2015, HHS added child support orders to the list of qualifying events under the category of gaining or becoming a dependent. The court order can be a qualified medical child support order or other order from a state or federal court that requires the dependent to be covered under a health plan.

The special enrollment period continues for 60 days following the court order. Coverage is typically backdated to the date of the court order, but at the enrollee’s request, the exchange can allow for normal effective date rules. (In most states, enrollments completed by the 15th of the month will have coverage effective the first of the following month.)

(If you’re uncertain about your eligibility for a special enrollment period, call (844) 428-3344 to discuss your situation with a licensed insurance professional.)


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.

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Special Enrollment Guide

Table of Contents

Why a guide to special enrollment periods?
1 Qualifying events and why we need them
2 Who doesn’t need a special enrollment period?
3 Involuntary loss of coverage is a qualifying event
4 How your ‘big move’ can trigger an SEP
5 Divorce, death, or legal separation: SEP is optional
6 A change in subsidy eligibility changes your options
7 Citizenship status can deliver coverage
8 An SEP if your employer plan doesn’t measure up
9 Non-calendar-year renewal as a qualifying event
10 Leaving the coverage gap? This SEP’s for you.
11 Proving you deserve an SEP
12 An SEP for your growing family
13 Exceptional circumstances for special enrollment

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