Alert: Shorter Enrollment for Affordable Care Act Again This Year

You only have until Dec. 15 to sign up for 2019 ACA health insurance

Nov. 1 marked the start of the 2019 open enrollment period to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Like last year, this year's open enrollment runs for just 45 days from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. By contrast, the open enrollment period in 2017 and previous years ran for 92 days – from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31 – which gave enrollees more than twice as much time to research plans, make decisions and submit applications.

Open enrollment is when you can switch insurance companies or get a different health insurance plan, for example, moving from a Silver to Gold plan. And even if you're happy with what you do have, It's also the time to make sure that the company hasn't changed anything about next year's plan in a way that could make it less useful to you.

Some States Extend the Deadline

Last year, in response to the shortened enrollment time frame, 9 states that run their own health insurance exchanges (plus the District of Columbia) extended their open enrollment periods beyond the deadline set by the Trump administration. This year, six states, plus the DIstrict of Columbia, have done so, most extending the date into 2019:

  • California (Oct. 15 to Jan. 15)
  • Colorado (Nov. 1 to Jan. 12)
  • District of Columbia (Nov. 1 to Jan. 31)
  • Massachusetts (Nov 1 to Jan. 23)
  • Minnesota (Nov. 1 to Jan. 13)
  • New York (Nov. 1 to Jan. 31)
  • Rhode Island (Nov. 1 to Dec. 31)

More states still could join the plan. Last year, Connecticut, Maryland and Washington eventually joined the group. 

Other Important 2019 Changes

Three other shifts have changed the picture for getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. 

Non-Payment Could Make You Ineligible to Sign Up

There used to be a loophole that let people stop paying premiums for a few months at the end of a year (even if insurance lapsed), and still be able to sign up for a new plan. Now, you won't be able to sign up for 2019 insurance unless all your 2018 bills have been paid. If you fall into this group remember that you have limited time to catch up and meet the enrollment deadline

The Individual Mandate Disappears

This means that, except in four states, you will not have a tax penalty for going without health insurance, starting in the 2019 tax year. It's unclear yet how this will affect costs long-term, if the result is that more healthy people will decide to skip getting full ACA healthcare coverage. People who miss the deadline can now get (often cheaper for those not eligible for ACA cost subsidies) short-term insurance plans that provide some coverage, but without the ACA's requirement to cover all 10 essential health benefits or ignore pre-existing conditions.

Special Enrollment Is Harder

It now takes more paperwork to get ACA coverage outside the normal enrollment period due to special circumstances, such as getting married or divorced, having a baby or losing employer health insurance. HealthCare.gov can give you the details on whether you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period and how much time you have to sign up

What Will It Cost?

Those figures will differ from state to state. According to two different estimates, costs will either rise by about 15% or decrease by 1.6%. This interactive map from Consumer Reports  is one way to look up your state's rates.

The Bottom Line

If you are planning to enroll or renew your ACA plan this year, get started immediately. And while you’re at it, remind your friends and family to get moving, as well. The current enrollment period is typically a particularly busy time for individuals and families, as many are gearing up for the holidays, figuring out how to keep kids entertained during the school break, attending office parties and visiting friends and family. It would be easy to let that Dec. 15 deadline slip past and miss the opportunity to obtain coverage.

Remember, open enrollment ends on Dec. 15 by midnight. If you haven't researched your options until now, move fast. You don't want to miss the deadline!

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