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Open Enrollment 2019: How Have Your Health Insurance Options Changed?

Sep 13, 2018 3 min read Ilana Polyak

Key Takeaways

  • The Affordable Care Act individual mandate penalties no longer apply.
  • Health care insurance premiums for the ACA will likely rise.
  • Give yourself plenty of time before the enrollment deadline to consider plan options.


Fall isn't just the time for back-to-school days, pumpkin spice lattes and hay rides. This season is also the one during which you can enroll in a health insurance plan. Open enrollment — the yearly period of time when you can sign up for benefits such as medical, vision and dental insurance with your employer, or make changes to the coverage you already have — occurs in the fall.


When is open enrollment? At most companies, open enrollment occurs in November.

Other questions you have may include: How do I get health insurance? How much is health insurance?

This is the time to compare your current health insurance plan to others that are offered. You may discover that another plan better meets your needs for both its services and its costs. Or you might need to sign up for a new plan if your employer stops offering the one you're currently using. (Keep in mind that, although health insurance is the starring attraction of open enrollment season, it's just one of many benefits your employer may offer .)

About half of the population gets health care coverage through their employer, according to the Kaiser Family Foundationopens in a new window. If you are not one of those who has access to an employee-sponsored plan, the Affordable Care Act has an open enrollment period for its different marketplaces (federal and state) in the fall as well.

What is the penalty for not having health insurance? The answer to that represents just one of several changes coming next year.


Changes for open enrollment in 2019

Here are changes that will take effect starting in 2019:

  • Repeal of the individual mandate penalty: One of the core provisions of the ACA is the individual mandate, the requirement that everyone carry qualified insurance coverage. In 2018, it is the greater of $695 per adult or 2.5% of annual income. Now there will be no penalty for failing to have coverage.
  • Rise of short-term, limited-duration plans (STDL): New federal rules give states the option of allowing insurers to sell short-term, bare-bones plans that are exempt from the ACA's coverage requirements. Those plans are cheaper.
  • Higher rates: Without the threat of penalty and being allowed to buy skimpier plans, younger, healthier consumers are expected to leave the ACA marketplace. That is likely to drive up premiums for those who remain. The Kaiser Family Foundation's initial estimates forecast that premiums for silver benchmark plans could rise as much as 36% in Baltimore, for example.
  • Fewer insurers: Because of the law's uncertainty, fewer insurers are likely to remain in the market. You may not have many options for health insurance carriers in 2019, especially if you live in a rural community.


What's staying the same for open enrollment in 2019

Despite the big changes to health insurance, some things are staying the same.

  • Open enrollment period: In 2018, the ACA open enrollment period shrank to just 45 days, half as long as it was previously. Open enrollment continues to be from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 for coverage to begin Jan. 1.
  • Individual mandate: Technically, the individual mandate is still in place. However, the penalty for not having insurance no longer applies, so the mandate is essentially no longer in effect. There are some states, however, that are working to enact their own individual mandates. Make sure you have a full understanding of your own state's health insurance marketplace.
  • There are exceptions to open enrollment signup: Open enrollment isn't your only opportunity to sign up for health care coverage. You can do that outside of the enrollment period if you go through a life event such as a job loss,marriage, divorce or the birth of a child. Remember, you will need to provide documentation of these life events in order to qualify.



What you can do next

Be sure that you give yourself enough time ahead of the enrollment deadline to carefully review all of your plan options. If you wait until the last minute, you could end up just going with last year's plan, even though it may not be the best one for you anymore. When it comes to health care, you want to do everything you can to maximize your benefits.

Examine your benefits plan to see if you’re taking full advantage of what your employer is already offering. For additional help saving money, be sure to look into discount programs, partnerships, and affinity offers.


Ilana Polyak is a freelance writer who specializes in personal finance and the financial advisory industry. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Barron's, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and CNBC.com


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