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Health Insurance Open Enrollment: Understanding Your Options

Aug 31, 2021 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.


Open enrollment for most health care benefits takes place every year in November. Here are some key facts and insights to help you navigate open enrollment for 2021.



What is open enrollment?

Annual enrollment, which typically takes place from November to mid-December, applies to employer-sponsored insurance coverage. Open enrollment is a similar process with similar dates but applies to those who don’t have employer-based health insurance.

During annual and open enrollment, you can sign up for benefits such as medical, vision and dental insurance, or make changes to the coverage you already have. It’s a smart idea to use this period 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 enrollment season, it's just one of many benefits your employer may offer.


How does ACA/Obamacare open enrollment for 2022 work?

If you don't have access to an employer-sponsored plan, the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare, has an open enrollment period in the fall as well. This period applies to all health care open enrollment not connected to an employer, including for Medicare and ACA/Obamacare plans.


When is enrollment for health insurance for 2022?

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, Medicare open enrollment and the ACA individual insurance marketplace open enrollment for 2022. Changes you make to your insurance will take effect Jan. 1 of the following year, though you now have until Jan.15, 2022, to sign up for ACA coverage for the rest of the year.

Visit HealthCare.gov Opens in new window for open enrollment information and exact dates for 2022 coverage.


What happens during annual and open enrollment?

If your employer provides health insurance, during annual and open enrollment 2021 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 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 annual and open enrollment?

What if you miss annual and open enrollment for 2022? 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

The COVID-19 pandemic also extended open enrollment for the ACA.

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


What you can do next

Give yourself enough time before the annual open enrollment deadlines 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 enrollment has ended.


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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