The Health Insurance Marketplace Is Open Now

Shopping for a health plan? Want to change the one you have? Depending on where you live, you now may have up to August 15, 2021, to sign up for or change your plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace. This special enrollment period is part of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Health Insurance Marketplace
The federal government and many states operate a Health Insurance Marketplace or exchange. These are websites where you can buy health insurance. They offer one or more health plans from which you can choose.

They’re worth considering if your employer doesn’t offer health coverage or you don’t like the coverage they offer. They also may be of interest if you work for yourself or lost your job, perhaps due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Marketplace is one way to get insured even if you’re out of work.

Special enrollment period. Earlier this year, the federal government created a special enrollment period for the federal Health Insurance Marketplace. This lets you enroll in 2021 Marketplace insurance outside the yearly open enrollment period. The government has now extended the special enrollment period to August 15, 2021. This means, if you use the federal Marketplace, you now have more time to enroll in or change your Marketplace plan. You can enroll in or change your plan here.

In most states, people use the federal Marketplace to sign up for health insurance. If you live in one of these states, you’ll have until August 15 to sign up. But some states run their own exchanges. Check here to find out if your state has a separate exchange. You also can check your state’s individual exchange site to find out if they have a special enrollment period that’s still open.

When You Need Help Paying for Health Coverage
Marketplace financial assistance. If you buy health insurance through a Marketplace, you may be able to get a subsidy, or financial assistance, to help pay your plan’s monthly premium. When you apply, you may qualify for a tax credit, also known as a premium tax credit, that lowers your monthly health plan cost. Your tax credit depends on your household size and income.

This year’s American Rescue Plan Act increases the subsidies for people at lower incomes who were already eligible for assistance. It also extends eligibility for subsidies to people who weren’t eligible before. Those are people with incomes over 400 percent of the poverty level. These provisions are temporary, lasting through the end of 2022.

If you qualify, you have two choices for the way you use the tax credit. After you sign up for your Marketplace plan, you can have the federal government pay the tax credit to your health plan directly every month. This lowers your plan’s monthly cost. Your other choice is to get a tax credit when you file your federal income tax return. You then can use the tax credit toward your Marketplace plan. You can find out if you qualify for a premium tax credit here.

COBRA premium assistance. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act, the government may now pay the full monthly cost of your COBRA coverage through the end of September.

COBRA lets you stay on your employer’s plan for up to 18 months if you recently lost your job without another job in place. With COBRA, you normally have to pay the full cost of coverage each month. This is often very expensive because it includes your part of the cost and your employer’s part.

The new law changes this by having the government pay 100 percent of your monthly coverage through September 30, 2021. Even if you didn’t enroll in COBRA right away and decided to do so later, you would still be able to go back and enroll. However, once your employer notifies you about the subsidy under the new law, you would have 60 days to enroll. You can find out if you qualify for COBRA premium assistance and how the program works here.