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Health Insurance Open Enrollment: Understanding Your Options

Mar 29, 2020 5 min read Ben Gran

Key Takeaways

  • Open enrollment is an annual period when you can make changes to your health insurance.
  • Read the fine print, ask questions and understand the impact of any changes to your plan.
  • Give yourself plenty of time before the enrollment deadline to consider plan options.



Starting in November each year, you can sign up for employer benefits such as medical, vision and dental insurance, or make changes to the coverage you already have.

During open enrollment, it's smart to compare your current health insurance plan with other options. You may discover that another plan better meets your needs or is more in line with your budget. Or, you might need to sign up for a new plan if your employer stops offering the one you're currently using. And, although health insurance is the starring attraction of open enrollment season, it's just one of many benefits your employer may offer.

If you don't have access to an employer-sponsored plan, the Affordable Care Act has an open enrollment period in the fall as well.

Here are some key facts and insights to help you navigate open enrollment.


When is open enrollment?

The exact dates vary from year to year, but in general, open enrollment runs annually from November through mid-December. The timeline is the same for employer-based health insurance and the ACA individual insurance marketplace. Any changes that you make to your insurance will take effect on January 1 of the following year.


What happens during open enrollment?

If your employer provides health insurance, during open enrollment you might be offered a new plan option, a new insurance provider, a higher-deductible insurance plan or new supplemental insurance plans, such as hospital indemnity or critical illness insurance coverage.

Some employers offer more choices during open enrollment than others; many employers may prefer to stay with the same insurance provider and continue offering a similar range of options.

Many employers offer benefits presentations and seminars during open enrollment, where employees can ask questions and learn more about their options. Be sure to ask your human resources team or benefits representatives if you're wondering about the best option to suit your needs.


How much does health insurance cost?

The cost of your insurance depends upon your employer, your benefits package and many other factors. If you get health insurance as part of your employee benefits at work, your employer often pays a portion of your monthly health insurance premium. Your health insurance cost will also depend on the details of your plan, including whether or not you have family members on your plan and the plan's deductible amount and copays.

Many employers offer detailed estimates of how much the cost of your insurance will increase during the next year, how much of your employee health insurance premium will be deducted from each of your paychecks and other specifics.

Open enrollment gives you the chance to make changes that can potentially strengthen your insurance coverage or reduce your upfront out-of-pocket costs. For example, if you're a single person with no dependents and you're generally in good health, you might want to consider changing your insurance plan to a higher-deductible plan with a lower premium. Or if you have family members who regularly need to see a doctor, you might want to choose a plan that has more generous benefits to reduce your total out-of-pocket costs, even if the premium is a bit higher.

It's important to understand your health insurance open enrollment options so you can make an informed choice and select the best coverage to suit your needs in the year ahead.


Can you get health insurance after open enrollment?

What if you miss open enrollment? Depending on your job status and life circumstances, you might still have options for getting health insurance after open enrollment ends. If you experience what's known as a qualifying life event, you can enroll in or change your plan during a special enrollment period.

Common qualifying life events include:

  • Loss of your health insurance coverage
  • Loss of Medicaid eligibility
  • A move to a new ZIP code
  • Marriage or divorce

If you experience any of these life changes, you can still get health insurance — even if the regular open enrollment period has ended.


What you can do next

Give yourself enough time before the enrollment deadline to carefully review your plan options and consider how to maximize your benefits. And remember that if you experience a qualifying life event, you can still get health insurance after open enrollment.



Ben Gran is a freelance writer based in Des Moines, Iowa. He writes about personal finance, public policy, financial services, technology, and business.


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