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When Does Obamacare Enrollment Start?

The 2017 Open Enrollment Period starts on November 1, 2016 and ends on January 31, 2017.

In order to have coverage by January 1st, you must enroll in a plan by December 15th.

Updated October 17, 2016

Before the Affordable Care Act took effect, enrollment guidelines varied based on insurer. Job-based plans have always followed individual schedules, and private companies could regulate their own enrollment as they saw fit. With the creation and implementation of the federal and state marketplaces, enrollees now have to abide by a standardized enrollment period for both on- and off-marketplace plans. Employer-sponsored coverage retains its individual scheduling, but if you sign up for health insurance through the marketplace or a private insurer directly, then you’ll have to follow the annual sign-up schedule outlined by the government.

In the next few sections, we’ll discuss some of the important dates to keep in mind for 2017.

Marketplace Enrollment

This year marks the fourth open enrollment period for Obamacare, and the process should be more streamlined than it has been in the past. Technical glitches and misunderstandings pushed the original open enrollment period to six months while confusion about tax penalties extended the enrollment in 2015 for some people. For 2017, the open enrollment period should proceed as planned. You’ll have from  to sign up for health insurance or make changes to an existing policy. This deadline applies to all plans purchased on the health insurance exchange sites as well as coverage bought through brokers and private companies directly.

If you don’t enroll during this time period, don’t qualify for a special enrollment period as described below and don’t qualify for an exemption to the individual mandate, then you’ll pay a steep penalty fee when you file your 2017 taxes. For 2016, the penalty fee is the greater of 2.5 percent of your taxable income or $695 per uninsured adult, whichever is greater. The flat-fee penalty will increase each year with inflation, but the percentage (2.5 percent) will stay the same.

Employer-based Coverage

If you get your health insurance through work, then you’ll follow a different schedule for enrollment. Each employer sets its own open enrollment period. Like the marketplace enrollment period, an employer’s window to modify or sign up for health insurance is restricted to a few months. Some companies offer more generous sign-up periods, but many limit the window in order to process change requests and make sure that they take care of everything that they need to do on their end.

Most open enrollment periods for job-based coverage, but your company may follow a different schedule. Rest assured that your employer should give you notice about the upcoming enrollment period. If something about your situation changes outside of that window, then you may be able to adjust your plan. By law, employers also have to grant at least a 30-day special enrollment period for qualifying life events. For example, if you have a baby, then you would be able to add coverage for your new dependent by following your company’s guidelines for doing so.

Private and Direct Plans

Private insurance plans sold through brokers or directly through an insurer almost universally follow the same enrollment schedule as the marketplaces, but there may be some limited exceptions. If you buy a plan outside of the open enrollment period, then make sure that it meets the requirements for minimum essential coverage. The plan has to adhere to all provisions of the ACA, which means that it needs to include the ten essential benefits and cover pre-existing conditions among other requirements. It also can’t place a cap on annual payouts.

You won’t find non-marketplace plans listed among your options when you browse the exchange site. Instead, you’ll need to check with an insurer directly, visit an independent online broker or speak with a local agency to find coverage that meets the requirements. Remember to ask if the plan you want to buy counts as qualifying coverage under the ACA. Note that you can’t get subsidies or other cost assistance when you buy health insurance from an off-marketplace source. If you do manage to find an ACA-compliant plan outside of open enrollment, then you won’t be charged a penalty fee depending on how long you waited to sign up.

Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP

Federal and state-sponsored programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) do not follow the same enrollment guidelines as the marketplaces. If you qualify for these programs, then you can sign up for them at any point during the year. You can’t use the marketplace websites to enroll in Medicaid or CHIP, but you can find out if you qualify for these programs by starting at the marketplace. You’ll be directed on where to go from there once the system determines your eligibility.

Medicare has historically followed its own schedule for enrollment. Because there are different parts to Medicare, there are different enrollment periods during which beneficiaries can make changes to existing policies or sign up for a new plan. In general, you can enroll in Medicare during a 7-month period around your 65th birthday – three months before you turn 65, the month that you turn 65 and the three months following that month. After initial enrollment, there are different periods to make changes. https://medicare.net/medicare-open-enrollment/ap with the national signup period for health insurance. To learn more about Medicare’s specific enrollment dates and guidelines, visit CMS.gov or Medicare.gov.

Special Circumstances

Health care officials have put some safeguards in place to protect people who experience substantial life changes from having to pay the penalty fee for not having insurance. Outside of open enrollment, the only way to sign up for health insurance on the marketplace is if you meet the special enrollment requirements. A special enrollment period exists for people who, for example, get married, adopt children, lose their jobs or lose access to an existing health insurance policy. In these cases, you’ll have 60 days from the Qualifying Life Event to sign up for health insurance on the exchange. You can learn more about qualifying life events and the special enrollment period by visiting HealthCare.gov.

Updated October 17, 2016

Are you wondering when the date for Obamacare Enrollment begins? We’ve got you covered. Print out the chart below to hang up on your fridge as a reminder, or use the contact form on our Contact page to request a notification about when open enrollment for Obamacare begins.

Obamacare Enrollment Dates & Deadlines Chart

Insurance Plan Type Open Enrollment Start Date Open Enrollment End Date
Open enrollment 2017 for individuals and families November 1, 2016 January 1, 2017
Open enrollment 2017 for small businesses to use the SHOP (1) Year-round Year-round
CHIP Year-round Year-round
Medicaid Year-round Year-round
Deadline to claim an exemption for the 2016 calendar year N/A April 17, 2017

(1) A small business is one that has fewer than 50 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees. You can read more about your options as a business owner on the HealthCare.gov website.

Licensed Health Insurance Agents Can Help You Enroll

Have you hit a wall with your effort to enroll in Obamacare? Signing up for health insurance can be perplexing. Remember that you can always enroll in a plan that is approved by Obamacare with the assistance of a licensed health insurance agent over the phone, in person at a local office or even from the convenience of your own home. There are several reasons why working with a licensed agent can be helpful when enrolling:

  • An experienced agent will listen to your needs and goals before recommending products that work for you and your budget.

You’ll get advice for yourself and anyone else in your family who needs coverage.

An agent can walk you through the process from start to finish and make sure that you have all of the right documents in place to enroll.

  • If there are any snags along the way, an agent can help you sort through them quickly so that you don’t have any problems getting coverage.

Eligibility for the Obamacare tax credits can actually be more complicated than simply using an online subsidy calculator. Unless you’re a tax specialist, or you consult with an accountant or the person who does your taxes, you could miss out on key deductions or miscalculate your earnings. If you don’t accurately calculate your final projected year-end earnings and deduct all of your expenses, you may not get the subsidy that you actually qualify for.

One mother of two from Orlando, Florida that we assisted originally thought that she was not eligible for a subsidy. However, after reviewing all of her details, an account specialist was able to determine that could obtain a subsidy that would allow her and her two daughters to enroll in a BCBS Florida Gold Plan for $110 a month. The original cost was $650 – a savings of over $500 a month. Details matter, so make sure that before you walk away from the opportunity of obtaining top healthcare coverage for substantially less money, you first speak with a licensed health insurance professional who specializes in working with individuals who are seeking to enroll in Obamacare.

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