If you need to obtain your own health insurance (ie, not through your employer), you’re probably familiar by now with the fact that the individual health insurance market has an annual open enrollment period. To enroll outside of open enrollment, most applicants will need a qualifying event in order to trigger a special enrollment period (SEP).
But qualifying events and SEPs aren’t always necessary. Enrollment continues year-round in some cases, and you don’t need a qualifying event if you’re in one of these categories:
- Native Americans and Alaska Natives. The Affordable Care Act has a provision that allows Native Americans and Alaska Natives to enroll year-round in the exchanges. They also have access to plans with zero cost-sharing if their income is under 300 percent of the federal poverty level.
- Anyone eligible for Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Enrollment in these plans is available year-round, both for people who are newly eligible due to a change in income, and for people who were already eligible but not yet enrolled.
- Residents of New York who are eligible for The Essential Plan. This is a Basic Health Program (BHP) that was implemented in New York in 2016. It’s available for residents who are not eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, and whose annual household income is up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. A single individual can qualify for The Essential Plan in 2016 with an income up to $23,540, and enrollment continues year-round.
- Residents of Minnesota who are eligible for MinnesotaCare. This is also a BHP, and although MinnesotaCare pre-dates the ACA, it was converted to a BHP under the ACA as of 2015. As with New York’s BHP, the upper income limit is 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and enrollment continues year-round.
- Residents of Massachusetts who qualify for ConnectorCare, as long as they are either newly eligible for ConnectorCare, or are applying for the first time (ie, the ability to enroll year-round in ConnectorCare does have some restrictions). ConnectorCare is available to residents with income up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, and is subsidized by the state in addition to the premium subsidies and cost-sharing subsidies provided by the ACA.
- Residents of Nevada who purchase coverage outside the exchange. Nevada is unique in that state law requires off-exchange health plans to be available for purchase year-round. Health insurance carriers can impose a 90-day waiting period before coverage becomes effective however, and subsidies (both premium subsidies and cost-sharing subsidies) are not available outside the exchange. In every other state, qualifying events are necessary to enroll outside of open enrollment, both on and off-exchange.
- Employers can purchase group health insurance coverage for their workforce at any time during the year. But an annual open enrollment period will then apply, during which workers can enroll in the plan or make changes to their coverage – and employees who experience various qualifying events have access to the employer-sponsored plan outside of the annual open enrollment period.
For everyone else shopping for their own health insurance – on or off-exchange – a qualifying event will be necessary in order to buy a plan outside of open enrollment.