Deadline looming: What you need to know about “enrollment period”

Our “What’s in a health word?” series helps decode the language of health insurance.

Open enrollment

Open enrollment for individual health insurance ends on March 31 for 2014. Flickr Photo by espinr

Health insurance enrollment windows can seem a little foggy.

When you have coverage through your job, annual “open enrollment” is the limited time when employees can change their existing health plans.

For Washington Healthplanfinder, and all of the new health exchanges, it’s similar. Open enrollment period refers to the time when individuals may register for coverage for that calendar year. The deadlines discourage people from enrolling in an insurance plan only when they need immediate medical attention.

What’s new this year is that it applies to any individual plan, which used to be sold year-round.

Open enrollment for all individual health insurance plans in Washington state – whether purchased inside or outside Washington’s Exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder – ends March 31,” according to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

If you need coverage during 2014, and if you want to avoid the new tax penalty, you have to sign-up by that deadline.

The next open enrollment comes next fall, in November, for benefits that start in 2015.

Exceptions, exceptions, exceptions

There’s one huge exception, and a long list of smaller ones. The biggie: If you qualify for the state’s Apple Health program (Medicaid), enrollment is ongoing—you can apply anytime and there is no deadline.

If you have a “qualifying life event” you can still enroll, either directly with an insurance company or through Healthplanfinder.

Qualifying life events include:

  • a major change to one’s income, including bankruptcy or job-loss
  • loss of COBRA coverage
  • moving to a new state
  • no longer qualifying for Medicaid
  • a marriage or a divorce
  • the birth or adoption of a child
  • (see a full list from the state Insurance Commissioner)

And, finally, if you’re rushing to meet the March 31 deadline, and your application gets stuck because of a computer error (giving you an “error code”), you can get an extension by contacting customer service at Washington Healthplanfinder.

So, while it is important to pay attention to the open enrollment deadlines, remember that there are leniencies for those changes that life seems to bring.

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