Open enrollment is a window of time each year during which you can sign up for benefits for the following year. Typically, open enrollment periods occur toward the end of the year, though the exact dates depend on where your coverage comes from – the insurance marketplace or your employer.
If you miss your open enrollment window, a few things may happen:
- If you already have insurance through workplace benefits or an individual plan, your coverage may automatically continue into the next year. However, you likely won’t be able to make changes to your existing plan.
- If you don’t have a preexisting plan, an opportunity to enroll in a spouse’s plan, or a qualifying life event, you may go into the next year without coverage.
The Affordable Care Act no longer penalizes you for not having health insurance. But if you’re uninsured, you could end up having to pay the full cost of expensive medical bills.
Plus, if you miss your workplace’s open enrollment period, you may have lost the opportunity to enroll in voluntary benefits such as accident insurance, legal insurance, and life insurance.
Here’s what to do if you miss the open enrollment period for benefits.
1. Double check your dates.
First and foremost, confirm you have missed open enrollment. As mentioned, dates differ depending on where you obtain coverage from. If you receive benefits from your employer, confirm the window with them. Some companies have open enrollment periods outside of the standard end-of-year enrollment window.
Remember, if you enroll in health insurance through the healthcare marketplace, you have until January 15 to enroll – coverage just won’t start until February 1 if you enroll after December 15.
2. Speak to your HR representative or benefits coordinator.
Do you receive benefits through your employer? Once you’ve confirmed the dates, ask your benefits team what other options are available. They’ll be able to go over the terms and qualifications associated with a special enrollment period (more about that below).
3. Research Qualifying Life Events (QLEs)
If you’ve experienced a qualifying life event, such as getting married, turning 26 and losing coverage through a parent’s plan or starting a new job that results in loss of coverage (these are just a few examples) you may be eligible for a special enrollment period that reopens the opportunity to enroll in benefits. This applies to plans through your employer and the healthcare marketplace.
You can typically apply for special enrollment within 30 or 60 days of your qualifying life event (depending on where you receive your coverage).
4. Explore your options.
Many workplaces offer voluntary benefits aside from health insurance. If you miss your open enrollment period and are unable to enroll in a spouse’s plan, you may lose out on those unique benefits and the discounted rates often associated with them.
For medical coverage, you can explore other options like short-term health insurance, Medicaid, or CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program). While they don’t have limited enrollment windows, there are certain qualifications that need to be met. Plus, not all states participate in short-term coverage.
What happens if you miss open enrollment?
If events beyond your control cause you to miss open enrollment, you can rest easy knowing that you still have options. There are alternative avenues for coverage that we’ve outlined above.
Additionally, you can take steps to make sure you don’t miss open enrollment in the first place. Set a yearly reminder for when open enrollment begins, and if you’re enrolled in group insurance, keep an eye out for reminders from your employer.