The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, provides a yearly open enrollment period when individuals and families can sign up for health insurance coverage. However, life events and unforeseen circumstances can occur outside this period, leaving some without coverage. In such situations, it is important to understand the options available to secure health insurance through the ACA. This article will discuss special enrollment periods, qualifying life events, and the steps to take to secure coverage after the open enrollment period.
Special Enrollment Periods: An Overview
A Special Enrollment Period (SEP) is a time outside the annual open enrollment period when individuals and families can enroll in or change their health insurance coverage. These periods are typically triggered by qualifying life events that result in a loss of coverage or changes in household or income circumstances. The SEP usually lasts for 60 days from the date of the qualifying event.
Qualifying Life Events: What Triggers a Special Enrollment Period?
Various life events can qualify you for a SEP, including but not limited to:
Loss of Health Coverage: Losing existing health coverage, such as job-based, individual, or student plans, or losing eligibility for Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP.
Changes in Household: Events such as getting married, having a baby, adopting a child, or placing a child in foster care can trigger a SEP. In the case of marriage, you have 60 days from the date of the event to enroll in a plan.
Changes in Residence: Moving to a new home in a different ZIP code or county, moving to the United States from a foreign country, or moving to or from a shelter or transitional housing may qualify you for a SEP.
Changes in Income: A significant change in income that affects your eligibility for premium tax credits or cost-sharing reductions can also trigger a SEP.
Gaining Membership in a Federally Recognized Tribe: Members of federally recognized tribes or Alaska Native shareholders can enroll in a plan or change their existing plan once per month.
Steps to Take After a Qualifying Life Event
If you experience a qualifying life event and need to secure health insurance coverage after the open enrollment period, follow these steps:
Gather Documentation: Collect the necessary documents to prove the qualifying life event, such as a marriage certificate, birth certificate, or proof of loss of coverage. You may be required to submit these documents when applying for coverage during a SEP.
Visit the Health Insurance Marketplace: Go to the official Health Insurance Marketplace website (HealthCare.gov) or your state’s designated marketplace website to start the application process.
Report Your Life Event: Once logged in, report your qualifying life event by selecting the appropriate option from the list of life events.
Choose a Health Plan: After reporting your life event, you will be presented with a list of available health plans. Compare the coverage options, premiums, and out-of-pocket costs to choose the plan that best suits your needs.
Enroll in the Plan: Complete the enrollment process by providing the required information and documentation. Be sure to enroll within the 60-day window to secure coverage.
Qualifying life events may grant individuals and families the opportunity to enroll in ACA health insurance coverage outside the open enrollment period. By understanding the eligibility requirements for a Special Enrollment Period, gathering the necessary documentation, and following the steps outlined above, you can secure health insurance coverage that aligns with your needs and budget even after the open enrollment period has ended.