When is Open Enrollment for ObamaCare, Medicaid, Medicare, and Other Insurance Types?
In general, open enrollment starts each year on November 1st and ends on December 15th. However, open enrollment may be extended each year in the federal marketplace HealthCare.Gov and/or in states running their own exchanges.
ObamaCare Enrollment 2021: Open enrollment for 2021 ran from November 1, 2020 to December 15, 2020 in most states. Plans sold during Open Enrollment start as early as January 1, 2021. See state-specific deadlines below as some states have extended deadlines each year. See other important info below.
Open Enrollment Extensions for open enrollment 2021: There will be a special enrollment period from February 15, 2021 – May 15, 2021. This will apply to anyone using HealthCare.Gov and may apply to other states. Otherwise, extended deadlines for states are noted below.
TIP: Get covered at Healthcare.Gov and see if you qualify for cost assistance. Find out what to do if you missed the deadline in your state.
TIP: This page is primarily about open enrollment in the individual and family private market. Other plan types like employer-sponsored plans and Medicare have their own open enrollment periods (see below).
Key Dates For ObamaCare Open Enrollment 2021 (the Open Enrollment Season For Plans Held in 2021)
- Sunday November 1, 2020: Open Enrollment begins.
- Tuesday December 15, 2020: Open Enrollment ends (extensions may be granted).
- Wednesday January 1, 2021: The earliest a plan purchased during open enrollment can start.
State Specific Deadlines and Extensions for the 2021 Open Enrollment Season
States with state-based exchanges may issue extensions each year, some states have permanent extensions, and the federal government may issue extensions year. Which extensions are offered is subject to change.
Below are the state-based deadlines for 2021 for marketplace coverage under the ACA and some notes on federal deadline extensions.
- California: October 15, 2020 through January 31, 2021. This a permanent extension.
- Colorado: November 1, 2020 through January 15, 2021. This a permanent extension.
- Connecticut: November 1, 2020 through January 15, 2021.
- Idaho: November 1, 2020 through Dember 31, 2020.
- Massachusetts: November 1, 2020 through January 23, 2021. This a permanent extension.
- Minnesota: November 1, 2020 through December 22, 2020.
- Nevada: November 1, 2020 through January 15, 2021.
- New Jersey: November 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021.
- New York: November 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021.
- Pennsylvania: November 1, 2020 through January 15, 2021.
- Rhode Island: October 15, 2020 through December 31, 2021.
- Washington DC: November 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021. This a permanent extension.
When Will Coverage Start With Extended Enrollment? In general, if you enroll after December 15th your coverage will start February 1st, and if you enroll after February 15th your coverage will generally start March 1st. With that said, some states who extend enrollment will have different rules. For example, in Idaho, if you enroll by December 31st your plan starts January 1st. Meanwhile, in California, enrolling after January 15th means your coverage won’t start until March 1st. Check your state’s health insurance website for details.
Where Can I find my state’s ObamaCare website? All state websites can be found through HealthCare.Gov’s home page. When you got the site you’ll get to pick your state. If your state has its own exchange, you’ll be taken to it.
Other states may be subject to extension in 2021. States with state-run exchanges can issue last-minute extensions, and the federal government can issue an extension for all states using the federal marketplace as well.
NOTE: This page focuses on open enrollment in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. That means it focuses on Medicaid and CHIP (which can be enrolled in 365 days a year), and on enrollment for private market individual and family plans that qualify for cost assistance based on income and other factors (which must be enrolled in during each year’s annual open enrollment period). With that in mind, information on other enrollment periods (like Medicare enrollment periods and employer open enrollment periods) is also offered below.
ObamaCare Open Enrollment 2021: Getting Covered For 2021
For those looking to obtain private market individual and family plans for 2020 (either through a private insurer directly or through the federal and state marketplaces):
- For 2021 coverage, December 15th is your last chance to get covered at Healthcare.Gov (the official health insurance marketplace AKA health insurance exchange) without qualifying for Special Enrollment unless extensions are granted. Those in states with state-specific deadlines have until the end of that deadline.
- All individual and family plans must be obtained during open enrollment whether the official marketplace is used or not! Those who don’t enroll during open enrollment will find their options limited.
- If you are between enrollment periods and have lost coverage for reasons other than non-payment, or if you have a life change like getting married, you may qualify for special enrollment.
- If you don’t qualify for special enrollment, don’t have coverage, and are in-between enrollment periods then options are generally limited to short term health insurance, Medicaid, and CHIP.
Below we will cover open enrollment dates for each health insurance type, information about past open enrollment periods, and some tips and tricks for making the most out of open enrollment. We also cover getting health insurance outside of open enrollment via special enrollment, and tips for avoiding the fee for not maintaining health insurance.
UPDATE on the fee for not having insurance for 2019: From 2019 forward there is no fee for not having coverage in most states. Despite this, open enrollment is still the only time of year you can get guaranteed issue health coverage and qualify for cost assistance without qualifying for a special enrollment period or another plan type.
Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare, Employer, and COBRA Annual Open Enrollment Dates and General Information
Now that you have those basics down, here is a list of key enrollment dates for Short term, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare, Employer Coverage, COBRA, etc. We’ll cover these in detail below.
TIP: When in doubt contact the entity responsible for the coverage type, for Medicaid and CHIP, contact your state Medicaid department, for Medicare, see Medicare.gov, for employer coverage, contact your employer, etc.
- Medicaid and CHIP can be enrolled in 365 days a year.
- Short term health insurance is also 365 days a year, but unlike the other coverage noted here short term does not protect you from the fee, does not follow all the ACA’s rules, and is not an annual contract. Learn more about short term (the only type of health insurance on this list that doesn’t count as “minimum essential coverage“).
- Medicare has two annual enrollment periods, one annual disenrollment period, and one initial enrollment period. Each period has unique rules, so make sure you understand all the implications of enrolling, not enrolling, or changing plans. You can enroll in Part A, B, or D (either directly or via a Part C plan AKA an Advantage Plan) during your Initial Enrollment period which is the 7 months surrounding your 65th birthday. General enrollment for Part A and B is Jan 1st – Mar 31 each year. The Annual Election Period (to opt-in, change, or opt-out of Part C and D) is Oct 15 – Dec 7, and the Special Disenrollment Period (to switch from Part C to A, B, and/or D, to Enroll in Part D, or to disenroll in C or D) is Jan 1st – Feb 14. There is more to it than that, so see: Medicare Enrollment Dates. TIP: For Medicare, you must have Part A or Part C Advantage (which contains Part A) to avoid the fee for not having health insurance.
- Employer coverage also has annual enrollment dates and an initial enrollment period. If you are hired at full-time and your employer offers coverage you’ll have to confirm your coverage, and then you’ll have up to a 90 day waiting period (from your start date) before your coverage starts (this will be coordinated by your employer). If you become full-time after that initial period, or if you switch to part-time, then things get complex; see measurement periods.
- For COBRA, if you are entitled to elect COBRA continuation coverage, you must be given an election period of at least 60 days (starting on the later of the date you are furnished the election notice or the date you would lose coverage). You can generally choose between COBRA or special enrollment, but must do so ASAP. Learn more about COBRA.
What is Open Enrollment?
With all the most important information covered the rest of the page will expand on definitions and offer more insight.
Open enrollment is the only time of year you can apply for cost assistance, switch plans, or enroll in a major medical plan that counts as minimum essential coverage in the individual and family market without qualifying for a special enrollment period. This is true both inside and outside the health insurance marketplace.
Other health insurance types like employer coverage, Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP have unique enrollment periods, which can be found below.
Historic Open Enrollment Dates and Other Key Facts
Each year there is an annual open enrollment period for the Health Insurance Marketplace and all other private coverage for individuals and families.
- For 2014 coverage, the open enrollment period was October 1st, 2013 – March 31st, 2014
- Open enrollment for 2015 ran from November 15th, 2014 – February 15th, 2015.
- Open Enrollment for 2016 ran from November 1st, 2015 – January 31, 2016.
- Open Enrollment for 2017 ran from November 1, 2016 – January 31, 2017.
- Open Enrollment for 2018 ran from November 1, 2017 – December 15, 2017 (extended to January 2018).
- For 2019 forward, open enrollment dates are expected to go from November 1st – December 15th (this is subject to change; although Nov 1 – Dec 15 is the standard open enrollment period moving forward).
- Open enrollment is the only time that you can enroll in a plan; change plans, or apply for cost assistance unless you qualify for a special enrollment period. All private health plans share the Health Insurance Marketplace’s open enrollment period; other types of plans like employer-based coverage, Medicaid, and Medicare have unique enrollment periods.
- The only way to get subsidized insurance is by enrolling in the health insurance marketplace.
- The only way to avoid the per month fee for not having insurance is to obtain minimum essential coverage and maintain it throughout the year or to qualify for an exemption. All marketplace coverage counts as minimum essential coverage.
- Make sure to verify your plan and cost assistance each year to avoid auto-renewal mistakes and make sure you get the right cost assistance. Not all plans auto-renew. You MUST verify your renewal or get new coverage during open enrollment!
- To avoid the fee moving you’ll need to maintain coverage or an exemption for each month throughout the year, although you are allowed a grace period of less than three months in a row without coverage.
- If you miss the deadline to sign up for health insurance you may still have options.
- You can apply for special enrollment until open enrollment starts each year, so don’t hesitate to contact your health insurance marketplace outside open enrollment if you have lost coverage for any reason.
- There was a one-time extended enrollment period for a tax season 2015. This was For 2015 only. If you were confused about open enrollment, and owed the fee from 2014, you qualified to get Marketplace coverage until April 30th (in most states).
- Healthcare.gov is the official Health Insurance Marketplace.
There are many different types of health insurance that count as minimum essential coverage and each has its own unique enrollment period. Let’s review the open enrollment periods for ObamaCare’s health insurance marketplace, Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP, job-based coverage, and off-marketplace private insurance plans.
ObamaCare Open Enrollment Period Definition
ObamaCare’s open enrollment period is an annual period of time during which you can enroll in a plan inside or outside the marketplace, switch plans, get cost assistance, and apply for Medicaid through the marketplace.
The only way to get major medical insurance known as minimum essential coverage (the type of coverage you’ll need to avoid the fee) is to enroll in a plan during open enrollment or by qualifying for a special enrollment period. This is true both inside and outside the marketplace since insurers have unofficially adopted ObamaCare’s enrollment periods for all major medical coverage.
NOTE: The past open enrollment periods are discussed in detail below.
What Happens if I Missed ObamaCare’s Open Enrollment?
If you miss open enrollment in ObamaCare you won’t be able to sign up again until the next open enrollment period without qualifying for a special enrollment period.
Special Enrollment Periods
A special enrollment period is a time outside the open enrollment period when you and your family can sign up for health insurance. Most types of health insurance have special enrollment periods for certain qualifying life events, but all types of health insurance have different criteria. below are the rules for ObamaCare’s special enrollment period:
You may qualify for a special enrollment period of 60 days following certain life events that involve a change in family status (for example, marriage or birth of a child) or loss of other health coverage.
You can’t buy insurance inside or outside the Marketplace until the next open enrollment period unless you qualify for a special enrollment period. Job-based plans generally allow special enrollment periods of 30 days.
ObamaCare Qualifying Events
The following life events will generally qualify you for a special enrollment period under ObamaCare.
- Getting married
- Adopting or giving birth to a child
- Permanently moving to a new area that offers different health plan options
- Losing other health coverage (for example due to a job loss, divorce, loss of eligibility for Medicaid or CHIP, expiration of COBRA coverage, or a health plan being decertified). Note: Voluntarily quitting your health insurance or being terminated for not paying your premiums is not considered loss of coverage. Losing coverage that is not minimum essential coverage is also not considered loss of coverage.)
- For people already enrolled in Marketplace coverage, having a change in income or household status that affects eligibility for tax credits or cost-sharing reductions will generally qualify you for a special enrollment period.
ObamaCare Enrollment Advice
During ObamaCare’s open enrollment, you need to create an account through your state’s marketplace, choose a plan, and enroll before the deadline. The verification process during account creation can take time. Beyond that, choosing the right plan and making sure you are enrolled can be time-consuming too. Do yourself a favor and give yourself time to solve problems that may arise. Don’t leave the process until the last minute. Make sure you finish the process of enrolling in ObamaCare before the end of each year’s open enrollment deadline.
Private Health Insurance Enrollment Periods
While there are no official enrollment periods for private health insurance purchased outside of the marketplace, insurers have adopted the marketplace open enrollment model.
Many individual and family plans could be purchased at any time before the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. Due to the new rights and protections, insurers have adopted a new model, which subjects individual and family plans to the same enrollment periods set forth by the ACA. There is no wording in the law that makes it mandatory, but this practice has been adopted to avoid sick people going without coverage or waiting to sign up until they are sick. Most plans found in the interim will be short term health insurance options, which won’t help you avoid the fee for not having insurance and can’t be subsided under the Affordable Care Act, but they will give you whatever health insurance is in the contract you sign.
Even if you missed open enrollment for ObamaCare you can still buy some private health insurance plan outside of the marketplace, but many won’t help you to avoid the per month fee for not having insurance.
Medicaid and CHIP Open Enrollment
Medicaid and CHIP can be enrolled in at any time, and that coverage can start retroactively up to two months. If you want to make life easier and sign up for Medicaid or CHIP through the marketplace, you will have to sign up during open enrollment. If you miss open enrollment in the marketplace you have other Medicaid sign up options.
ObamaCare Open Enrollment Small Business
ObamaCare’s open enrollment for small businesses originally started during 2014 open enrollment (Oct 1st, 2013 – March 31st, 2014). However, the SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program) marketplace that allows businesses with 50 or less full-time equivalent employees to enroll didn’t start until open enrollment 2015 (Nov 15th 2014 – Feb 15th 2015). Beginning in 2016, small businesses with between 50-100 full-time equivalent employees can use the marketplace in states that don’t allow this sooner. Small businesses can still get small business tax credits through an agent retroactively since 2010, and moving forward each year until they can use the marketplace to apply for tax credits.
Learn more about the Small Business Health Options Program.
Open Enrollment For Job-Based Insurance
The open enrollment period for job-based insurance is different for each employer. Open enrollment typically occurs in the fall, but not always. Your employer should notify you about your open enrollment period.
Your employer will have a special enrollment period for qualifying life events and new hires in job-based insurance just as you would have in the marketplace. Contact your Human Resources department for employer-specific details.
If you lose your job you can switch to COBRA or to a marketplace plan. During open enrollment, you can switch from your COBRA coverage or employer-based coverage by simply enrolling in a marketplace plan. If you lose your employer-based coverage or your COBRA is ending outside an open enrollment period, you can switch to a marketplace plan via a special enrollment period.
Medicare Open Enrollment
For most people, the initial enrollment period for Medicare Part A and Part B starts 3 months before their 65th birthday and ends 3 months after their 65th birthday. After initial open enrollment, there are two open enrollments each year during which you can switch your plan or add to it. The first general enrollment period goes from January to March with coverage starting July 1st.
Individuals who have Medicare Part A and Part B may enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan during the Annual Election Period (AEP), the second enrollment period that lasts from October 15 through December 7. Individuals who were eligible for Medicare Part A or enrolled in Part B as of the effective date of coverage can enroll in a Part D plan or switch Part D plans during this time. Individuals can also enroll in a Part D plan if they had qualified for a Special Election Period (SEP).
In addition, those insured under Medicare have from January 1 through February 14 to un-enroll from their plan and return to traditional Medicare. A Medicare Advantage enrollee, however, cannot switch from his or her existing Medicare Advantage plan to a different plan during this period.
Learn more about Medicare open enrollment periods.
Information About Past ObamaCare Enrollment Periods
Below is information about past open enrollment periods, this information might be useful for those filing back taxes or for those studying the history of the Affordable Care Act.
ObamaCare Open Enrollment 2014 (Coverage For 2014)
ObamaCare’s 2014 open enrollment period started October 1st, 2013 and ended March 31st, 2014. If you enrolled during the 2014 open enrollment period you should sign into the marketplace, see what new plans are available, and update your information during 2015’s open enrollment period.
ObamaCare Extended Open Enrollment 2014
If you signed up for the marketplace by March 31st, 2014, but weren’t able to enroll, you were able to check a box that allowed you to enroll until mid-April due to a last-minute extension. This was a one-time extension for open enrollment 2014 only. Even if you enrolled during the extension or if you enrolled during a special enrollment period you will still be able to switch plans during open enrollment 2015.
ObamaCare Open Enrollment 2015 (Coverage For 2015)
ObamaCare’s open enrollment 2015 started on November 15th, 2014 and ended on February 15th, 2015. Starting in 2015, open enrollment only lasts for three months, however, this open enrollment period may be subject to change.
Open Enrollment 2015 Changes
Open enrollment 2015 is your opportunity to see what new plans your state’s marketplace is offering and to update your information. Please go to our guide to ObamaCare in 2015 for more specific information on the 2015 enrollment period changes. It’s very important that you verify your plan and information to make sure you are getting the coverage you want with the cost assistance you qualify for.
The deadline to make sure you had the right plan and right cost assistance for January of 2015 was December 15th, 2014.
ObamaCare Extended Open Enrollment 2015
There was a special enrollment period for those who owed the fee for 2014, and don’t have coverage for 2015. This special enrollment period essentially extended open enrollment 2015 until April 30th for many Americans.
ObamaCare Open Enrollment 2016 (Coverage For 2016)
ObamaCare’s Open enrollment 2016 runs from November 1st, 2015 – January 31, 2016. To get coverage for 2016 you must enroll before January 31st. See options outside of open enrollment here.
To get coverage for January 1, 2016, you had to enroll between November 1st, 2015 – December 15th, 2015 (coverage purchased after the 15th starts on the 1st of the month after the next month. So coverage purchased on December 16 starts February 1st.)
The 2016 open enrollment period has been extended more than once, and both 2014 and 2015 open enrollment periods were extended, so we may still see further changes.
ObamaCare Open Enrollment Beyond 2016 (Coverage for 2017 and Beyond)
Moving forward, extensions are not guaranteed and the open enrollment is expected to narrow to October 1 through December 15 every year (this ended up narrowing to Nov 1st – Dec 15). See Federal Register “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; HHS Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2016” for details on 2016 open enrollment.
Important Open Enrollment Period Dates
Here are the dates you need to know to make sure you are covered during ObamaCare’s open enrollment period. These dates provide a quick recap of all open enrollment dates since 2014.
- November 15, 2014: Open enrollment started. This was true both inside and outside the marketplace.
- December 15th, 2014: Anyone who wanted their plan to start by January 1st, 2014 needed to take action to ensure they were renewing the plan they wanted for 2015. You can change plans at any time during open enrollment, but your plan won’t start by January 1st if you sign up toward the end of the enrollment period.
- December 31st, 2014: All plans enrolled in during last open enrollment ended.
- January 1st, 2015: Plans that will be offered next year automatically renew with the same cost assistance if applicable.
- February 15th, 2015: This is the last day to enroll in a plan, change plans, or apply for cost assistance. This is true both inside and outside the marketplace.
- November 1st, 2015: This is the first day of open enrollment for 2016 coverage.
- January 31, 2016: The last day of open enrollment for 2016 coverage.
- November 1st (moving forward into 2017 and beyond): Open enrollment begins
- December 15th (moving forward into 2017 and beyond): Open enrollment ends and plans auto-renew if applicable.
- January 1st (moving forward into 2017 and beyond): All new plans, purchased or renewed before December 15 begin.
TIP: Remember, although the basics won’t change, specific dates are subject to change.
TIP: If you have another insurance type that we haven’t covered on this page either contact us and let us know so we can cover it, or simply ask your plan provider for specifics on open enrollment dates.
When Is Open Enrollment For Health Insurance?