Open enrollment is the time of the year when individuals can enroll in a new health insurance plan or make changes to their existing plan.
But what happens if you miss open enrollment? What if you didn’t get the chance to get coverage for yourself or your family?
Missing open enrollment can have serious consequences for those without any coverage.
What happens if you miss open enrollment?
One of the most significant consequences is that you’ll be without health insurance coverage until the next open enrollment period. This can put you at risk of significant financial burden in the event of an unexpected illness or injury or catastrophic medical bill.
Medical bills can add up quickly, and without health insurance, you will be responsible for paying those bills out of pocket. Even a minor medical issue can lead to thousands of dollars in medical expenses, which can be difficult or impossible to pay without quality health insurance coverage and support.
If you already have an existing plan, missing open enrollment means that you’ll be stuck with your current plan, even if it is no longer affordable or does not meet your needs.
If you missed open enrollment, there is also the possibility that you may be unable to purchase health insurance at all. This can happen if you have a pre-existing medical condition and are not able to enroll in a new plan because of your health status.
And if you’re unable to purchase a new plan outside of open enrollment, you may be left uninsured.
Missing open enrollment may also lead to financial penalties. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires most individuals to have health insurance coverage, and those who do not may be subject to a tax penalty. The penalty for not having insurance is assessed annually and is based on the number of months an individual goes without coverage. The amount of the penalty can be quite significant, which can lead to financial stress for those who miss open enrollment.
The good news: Exemptions
There are some limited exemptions for missing open enrollment.
If you have had certain life events, such as getting married, having a baby, or losing job-based coverage, you may qualify for a special enrollment period and may be able to purchase coverage outside of the open enrollment period.
But it’s important to note that this is not a general rule and it’s always recommended to check with your insurance company or healthcare.gov for more information about your specific situation.
“I missed open enrollment, what should I do?”
Types of Healthcare Alternative Outside of Open Enrollment
For many, open enrollment is the only time when they can enroll in or make changes to their health insurance coverage.
However, there are a few alternatives for those who miss open enrollment or are unable to purchase insurance through traditional channels.
Private health insurance
Direct from carrier plans
This option is very straightforward. You can go directly to the websites and agents that represent household name big insurance companies and purchase individual plans directly from the insurer. May be costly with not a lot of flexibility in coverage.
Short-term Health Insurance
Short-term health insurance plans are designed to provide coverage for a limited period of time, typically from one month to one year. These plans are not subject to the same regulations as traditional health insurance plans, which means that they may be less expensive and more flexible. However, they also may not cover pre-existing conditions and may have limited benefits.
Medically underwritten plans
Similar in model to pre-ACA or pre-2008 era plans. The concept involves going through medical qualifications and some underwriting and getting an insurance offer based on medical risk. Can be very value packed and cost effective if you are generally healthy with no major pre-existing conditions.
Health sharing plans
Health Care Sharing Ministries
This allows people to band together and share each other’s medical expenses. These ministries are not insurance and don’t have to comply with the Affordable Care Act regulations. However, they are also not insurance and thus regulated by state insurance commissions, which means that you may have less protection if things go wrong.
Direct subscription services
Direct Primary Care
Patients pay a monthly or annual fee directly to a primary care physician or group in exchange for access to that physician or group without the use of insurance. With direct primary care, you have a relationship with the provider which may have some benefits, and the costs are usually lower than traditional primary care visits. Keep in mind that this does not replace traditional insurance with a max out of pocket for catastrophic events.
Health Savings Account (HSAs)
HSAs are a way for people to set aside pre-tax dollars to pay for medical expenses. With an HSA, you can use the funds to pay for your insurance premiums, medical bills, and other healthcare expenses. This option is ideal for people with high-deductible health plans and doesn’t require access to a comprehensive set of benefits.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
Many employers offer EAPs as a benefit to their employees. EAPs provide employees with access to confidential counseling, advice, and referral services. Some EAPs may offer limited coverage for things like mental health, substance abuse, and legal or financial assistance.
Charity care programs
These provide financial assistance to individuals unable to pay for their medical expenses. These programs are typically provided by hospitals and other healthcare organizations, and can include things like discounted or free care for low-income individuals, or assistance with paying for things like medications, transportation, or other expenses related to medical care.
Medicaid and CHIP
Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are government-funded healthcare programs that provide coverage to low-income individuals and families. These programs are typically available year-round, but there are some restrictions on who can enroll and when. Eligibility is based on income, but it also can vary by state.
Medical Cost-Sharing Programs
Similar to health care sharing ministries, medical cost-sharing programs are not insurance, but allow individuals to share each other’s medical expenses. They may have more regulations in place and some of them, however, have been created to provide more options to individuals who are unable to enroll in traditional insurance plans.
It’s important to note that all the options listed above are not equivalent to traditional health insurance coverage, some are, not all.
They may have fewer benefits and may not cover certain types of care or pre-existing conditions. It’s always recommended to research the options available and compare the benefits, costs and coverage before making a decision. Work with a health insurance advisor (HI!) who is licensed and certified in your state and has knowledge of the market and new offerings.
Missing open enrollment for health insurance has consequences. It can leave you without coverage, stuck with a plan that no longer meets your needs, and potentially subject to penalties. It’s important to be aware of open enrollment periods and to take advantage of them to ensure they have the coverage they need to protect their health and financial well-being.
Missed open enrollment and need help figuring out if you qualify for health insurance outside of the time frame? Let’s chat.
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