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AE vs OE: What Is The Difference Between Annual Enrollment and Open Enrollment?

Oct 16, 2019 5 min read Ben Gran

Key Takeaways

  • Manage your health insurance during either annual enrollment or open enrollment (AE vs OE).
  • Pay attention to actions and decisions needed by the enrollment deadline.
  • Know you can change your insurance at any time if you experience a qualifying event.


Managing your health insurance is an important part of financial wellness, and the most important time of year for making decisions about your insurance benefits is the annual enrollment period. Many people are curious about the differences between "annual enrollment" and "open enrollment" (AE vs OE).

If you want to make changes to your health insurance or other insurance coverage, or if you have experienced a loss of health insurance coverage due to a layoff or other changes in your life, you should understand the meaning of these types of insurance enrollment periods so that you can make the best decisions for your situation.


What is annual enrollment?

Annual enrollment is a designated time of year for employer-sponsored insurance coverage, during November through mid-December, when employees are allowed to make changes to their health insurance plan. During annual enrollment, many employers have presentations and benefits reviews where people can ask questions and meet with representatives of their insurance providers.

Changes made during annual enrollment typically take effect on January 1 of the following year.


What is open enrollment?

Open enrollment is another window of eligibility for people to make changes in their insurance plans, but it applies to everyone who does not have employer-sponsored health insurance plans — including people who are self-employed or have individual insurance. The open enrollment period dates are often the same as annual enrollment, although some states have slightly different dates for open enrollment. According to healthcare.gov Opens in new window, the 2020 Open Enrollment period will be November 1 through December 15, 2019, with plans starting on January 1, 2020.


What steps should you take during annual enrollment or open enrollment?

If you have insurance through your employer, you need to pay attention during annual enrollment to make any changes you want to your insurance. If you want to switch to a different health insurance plan, add supplemental insurance coverage or opt out of any optional coverage, this is your chance to do it.

People often make changes during annual enrollment or open enrollment because they want to manage their insurance costs differently or improve their coverage.

If you do not have insurance through an employer, open enrollment is also your opportunity to make changes to your existing health insurance policy or sign up for a new one — whether you want to upgrade to a more expansive policy or shift to a lower-cost premium with a higher deductible.

Make sure you read the fine print on any insurance-related communications from your employer and/or your insurance provider before and during the enrollment period. Usually you can continue your existing coverage without taking any action. But if there are any actions or decisions required of you by the enrollment period deadline, make sure you understand and fulfill them. If you do not complete these before the deadline, you might not get another opportunity until next year.


What if you do not have health insurance or lose your coverage?

Usually, open enrollment and annual enrollment are the only times of year to sign up for health insurance. However, if you have recently lost your job, gotten married or divorced, had a change of residence, had a baby, or gone through other life changes known as "qualifying life events," Opens in new window you can sign up for health insurance at any time of year. These situations let you have a Special Enrollment Period when you can make changes or enroll in a new plan for up to 60 days after the qualifying event.

See healthcare.gov for more information on what it takes to qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. Opens in new window

Here's the bottom line on AE vs OE: Annual enrollment is for employees who get health insurance as part of their benefits. Open enrollment is for people who get insurance on the individual market. But everyone can make changes to their health insurance at any time of year, if they have a qualifying event.



What you can do next

Pay attention to the communications from your company and your insurance company. Make sure you meet the deadlines to re-enroll in your current plan (if any action is required) or make changes to the new plan of your choice. And if you lose health insurance coverage due to a qualifying event, know that you have options and can re-enroll at any time.

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