It’s a question that a lot of people are asking as terms like “open enrollment” and “exchanges” are becoming part of the common lexicon. In a bid to clear up some of the confusion surrounding Obamacare and its various regulations and mandates, we put together this handy guide to help you learn more about when to enroll for coverage.
To answer the question at the top of this article: no, you can’t sign up for Obamacare anytime.
There are Exceptions
The latest round of enrollment, or the time period when anyone can enroll in a new healthcare plan or change their existing coverage, ended on January 31, 2016. You have few options for purchasing individual health insurance for the remainder of the plan year until open enrollment begins again on November 1, 2016. However, there are some choices available for getting coverage as not everyone is bound by the open enrollment limits.
If you hail from Native-American descent, you are free to enroll for health coverage year round. The same exception applies for those who qualify for coverage through Medicaid. If you do not meet these criteria, than you must face a qualifying life event, as described below, or wait until November to enroll.
Applicants can purchase coverage outside of open enrollment during a “qualifying event” which initiates a unique open enrollment window where certain people can qualify to sign up for coverage. There are nine types of qualifying events that trigger a special enrollment period including:
- An involuntary loss of your current policy
- A plan that renews outside of the open enrollment period
- You become or you gain a dependent
- You become a U.S. citizen
- There was an error with your enrollment for which you are not at fault
- Your benefits are reduced on your employer-sponsored coverage
- You make a permanent move to a region where various qualified health plans are now available to you
If you live in the state of Nevada, you don’t need a qualifying event to sign up for coverage. You can get off-exchange coverage year round, but you may be subject to a 90-day waiting period before your benefits are available. Those who are eligible under a qualifying event must have specific and relevant proof that they indeed qualify for the event in which they are receiving special open enrollment consideration for signing up under new or adjusted coverage.
If you missed the open enrollment window and you aren’t eligible for any of the qualifying events that were mentioned above, then you don’t have too many options for signing up for coverage under Obamacare. Those policies that are available are not regulated by the Affordable Care Act and the options you’ll find outside of open enrollment are varied, with short-term health insurance, limited-benefit plans, accident supplements, specific-illness, dental/vision plans, and medical discount plans all included as options for coverage.
Among these plans, only short-term coverage is the best and closest option to having insurance without being enrolled in a traditional plan. This coverage is only designed to run for about one to six months and is intended for use as a safety net to keep you covered until the next open enrollment period or you become eligible for a qualifying event. Some states offer short-term plans that last for a year, 364 days specifically, to keep it technically less than one full year in order to fall under short-term coverage.
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