Fall Is Open Enrollment Season

As the leaves change color, it’s a good time to think about health insurance. That’s because fall is open enrollment season—the time of year when you can sign up for a health plan or make changes to the plan you have.

Job-Based Health Plans

If you receive your health insurance through your employer, you probably signed onto your health plan when you were hired. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay with it forever. If your employer offers a choice of plans, during open enrollment season you have a chance to reconsider which plan is best for you. You can review plan materials, ask questions about plan choices, choose a different plan, sign up for new plan offerings and add or drop dependents.

Many businesses have their open enrollment season in the fall, with coverage to become effective at the start of the new year. The window for making changes may only last a few weeks, so ask your human resources department or manager when your company’s open enrollment season will take place. That’ll give you more time to think about your options.

The Health Insurance Marketplace

The federal government and many states operate a Health Insurance Marketplace or Exchange. Those are websites that offer one or more health plans in which individuals can enroll themselves and their families. They are worth considering if your employer doesn’t offer health coverage or you don’t like the coverage your employer offers. They also may be of interest if you’re self-employed or unemployed. An advantage of Marketplace plans is that when you apply for one, you’ll find out if you qualify for subsidies to reduce the cost of coverage. You’ll also see whether you’re eligible for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for people with limited incomes.

Open enrollment for the federal Health Insurance Marketplace runs from November 1, 2018, to December 15, 2018. If you want to choose or change a federal Marketplace plan for 2019, you have to do so during that period.

Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP

When you turn 65, you can enroll in the government’s Medicare program. (You may also qualify for Medicare if you have a disability or permanent kidney failure.) Click here for information on when and how to apply for Medicare.

Every year, Medicare has its own open enrollment period, from October 15 to December 7. During this period, you can make changes to your Medicare coverage. For example, you can join a new Medicare Advantage plan, which lets you get your Medicare benefits from a private health plan. Or, you can enroll in a new stand-alone prescription drug plan. For more information, contact Medicare or visit Medicare Interactive.

If your income is under certain limits, you may qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). If you qualify, you can enroll at any time of the year. Check here to see if you qualify.

Preparing for Open Enrollment

It pays to prepare for open enrollment. You may have choices to make, and not much time to make them. To help you choose among plans, read Types of Health Plans in this issue of FAIR Health Consumer Access. Are you going to apply for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace? If so, here’s a checklist of information you may want to gather in advance.

If you miss open enrollment, you still may have opportunities to change your coverage before next year’s open enrollment period. Most employers let you make changes to your coverage for certain life events, whenever they happen. Those events may include the birth of a child or loss of coverage under a spouse’s plan. The Health Insurance Marketplace allows “special enrollment periods” for similar sorts of events. Even so, open enrollment season is your best chance to sign up for or change your health coverage.