When to Get Signed Up for the Affordable Care Act

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Before you walk through the how of enrolling in a Marketplace health plan, you need to understand the when. The Marketplace is always open for people who have certain major life events and need to change their coverage.

In addition, each year eligible people have an open enrollment period during which they can make any changes to their coverage they’d like. Here’s when to sign up and the basics of getting signed up for a plan.

ACA enrollment periods

Two types of enrollment periods exist:

  • Open enrollment: This term refers to the time each year when anyone who needs coverage or wants to switch to a new insurance plan can enroll on the Marketplace. When the Marketplace first went live in fall 2013, that open enrollment period was set to last six months to accommodate the millions of people applying for coverage.

    As of 2014, the Marketplace allows open enrollment for a few months every year for signing up for coverage the following year. For example, for 2015 insurance coverage, open enrollment is slated to run from November 15, 2014, to January 15, 2015.

  • Special enrollment: If you experience a qualifying life event, such as a job loss, a divorce, a marriage, the loss of your spouse, or the birth of a child, you have 60 days to shop for a new plan on the Marketplace, regardless of whether the event happens during an open enrollment period.

If you’re already insured and are looking to change your coverage, you must wait until open enrollment. However, if your existing coverage changes during the year — for example, your employer decides to cut your hours and you no longer qualify for coverage — that event could qualify you for special enrollment if you choose to change plans.

If you have insurance through Medicare, that coverage is independent of the Health Insurance Marketplace. Medicare open enrollment occurs every year from October 15 to December 7.

Creating an account

Before you can start comparing the plans offered on your state’s Marketplace, you must go through a simple process to create a Marketplace account. (Some states let you do a broad comparison of plans without setting up an account, but you won’t get specific costs related to your characteristics, such as your age, family size, or tobacco use.)

You provide basic information such as your name and contact information, and then you create a user name and password. You also select some security questions that help protect access to your account. Then you’re ready to fill out an application for coverage.

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