When it comes to our health, options matter. The path to good health is not a one-way street; rather, it relies on a fluid ability to understand and navigate healthcare offerings year by year, choosing the options most suitable for our current and future circumstances.
With the rollout of the Affordable Care Act ("Obama Care"), health insurance exchanges have been set up offering nearly all Americans the opportunity to view and purchase a health insurance plan that best meets their needs.
Open enrollment for these health insurance marketplaces typically begins at November 1 and persists until December 15. However, state health departments may make the decision to extend the enrollment period, further incenting those who need health insurance to buy it.
Deciding whether to renew your current health insurance plan or to pursue a new one can be tough. Before you make a decision this year, be sure to weigh all of your options accordingly. Check out these important open enrollment tips to get started.
Open Enrollment Dates Have Changed
Typically, the federal government begins the health insurance open enrollment period on November 1 and closes on January 1. For 2017, open enrollment starts at the same date but now closes on December 15, lasting six weeks.
Some state governments have passed legislation that changes these deadlines. Some states are extending the time that people have to buy health insurance. Currently, those states are:
- California – Nov. 1 to Jan. 31
- Colorado – Nov. 1 to Jan. 12
- D.C. – Nov. 1 to Jan. 31
- Massachusetts – Nov. 1 to Jan. 31
- Minnesota – Nov. 1 to Jan. 14
- Washington – Nov. 1 to Jan. 15
- New York – Nov. 1 to Jan. 1
This isn’t an exhaustive list, as each state may have different rules. If you’re unsure, go to healthcare.gov to see your state’s specific enrollment period.
Open Enrollment is a Time of Change
Open Enrollment is your annual opportunity to reflect upon your benefit elections and make any needed changes for the upcoming year. During this period, you may add or remove eligible dependents, and alter your benefit elections, with most changes going into effect on January 1, 2018.
Before You Apply, Have These Documents on Hand
When you apply for or renew your coverage this year, you may need to provide some information about you and your household. This may include:
- Home and/or mailing addresses for everyone applying for coverage.
- Information such as birth dates and Social Security numbers.
- Document information for legal immigrants.
- Information on how you file your taxes.
- An estimate of your household income for the following year.
- Policy numbers for any current health plans covering members of your household.
If you’re unsure what plan best fits your needs or how to apply/renew, it may be best to seek out a professional who can help you apply.
All Health Plans Must Cover the 10 Essential Benefits
All health plans, no matter the level, must provide some coverage for at least 10 essential benefits. They are:
- Preventive and wellness visits
- Maternity care
- Mental and behavioral health treatment
- Services to help people with injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions’
- Lab tests
- Outpatient care
- Pediatric care
- Prescription drugs
- Emergency room services
In addition to the essential health benefits, all plans through the health insurance Marketplace cover pre-existing conditions and preventive services.