There’s a lot to think about—and price out—during open enrollment. Here are some things to consider as you review and choose your benefits during open enrollment.
What is open enrollment?
Open enrollment is the time of year when people may review, select, or modify their benefits. Sometimes called “annual enrollment” in workplaces, the period normally lasts 2 to 4 weeks and is when employees have an opportunity to make choices about health insurance, retirement plans, and some other employee benefits. Medicare and the Health Insurance Marketplace have open enrollment periods too.
Whether or not you’re getting insurance through an employer, open enrollment is a great time to assess your current needs and consider changes so you can pick the best health insurance plan for you. Changes made during open enrollment are often binding for the upcoming year, so it’s important to do your due diligence before you make your selections.
What insurance types can you choose during open enrollment?
When many people hear “open enrollment,” they think employer-sponsored medical plan. And they’re right to make that association. But some employers offer other types of insurance, such as dental, vision, life, disability, and even pet insurance, and they might allow you to enroll in or make changes to these benefits during their open enrollment period. Other benefits that might be part of open enrollment are access to legal assistance, a flexible spending account (FSA), and identity protection plans.
Not all health insurance plans have open enrollment periods though. For instance, Medicaid doesn’t, and neither does the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
When is open enrollment in 2023?
The exact open enrollment period varies depending on how you get health insurance. Here are some common open enrollment periods for 2023.
- Health Insurance Marketplace: Open enrollment starts on November 1 continuing through December 15 each year for coverage beginning on January 1. The open enrollment period technically stays open until January 15, with coverage starting on February 1 for those who enroll or change plans between December 16 and January 15.
- Medicare: It’s a little complicated. Generally, there are 2 Medicare open enrollment periods: one from October 15 to December 7 and another from January 1 to March 31, only for those already on a Medicare Advantage Plan. These are separate from the initial enrollment period for people who are brand new to the program. The initial enrollment period starts 3 months before you turn 65 and runs until the last day of the third month after you turn 65. For the October 15 to December 7 open enrollment period, coverage begins January 1 of next year. For the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period from January 1 to March 31, coverage becomes effective the first day of the month after the plan receives your request.
- Employer-sponsored health plans: These open enrollment periods vary by company, but they often occur between September and November. It’s up to employers to share info about open enrollment dates.
Not sure about when your open enrollment period is? Reach out to your benefits department if you get health insurance through your company. Open enrollment periods sometimes vary by workplace location. Or check with the sponsoring government agency for specific dates and details if you get health insurance that way.
How to prepare for open enrollment
With some planning, these tips could help you make smart health care decisions during open enrollment.
Review your health care costs and usage over the last year. See what you spent in premiums and out-of-pocket costs, as well as what services you got. That could tell you whether your past health insurance plan was a good value for your needs and what type of coverage might be important vs. unnecessary in the coming year.
Look into a health savings account (HSA). The health insurance plan you choose could dictate your eligibility to contribute to an HSA, a tax-advantaged account that has potential financial benefits for today and in the future. If you’d like an HSA and don’t know whether a certain health insurance plan is HSA-eligible, reach out to your insurance provider or benefits department. If you aren’t eligible for an HSA, you could check if your employer offers a health care flexible spending account (FSA), another way to save pre-tax dollars for qualified medical expenses. FSA eligibility is not typically connected to your health insurance plan.
Consider upcoming life events. Planned surgeries or a new addition to your family could drastically change your health care needs. It’s impossible to estimate all future health care costs, but it could be worth the effort to price out what you can predict on different plans. Then you could see which plan might be the best deal.
Compare previous and new plans. Just because you’re signing up for health insurance through the same employer or government agency as last year doesn’t mean the costs and coverage stayed the same. Look closely at all new health plan options, even ones you might not have considered before. Changes to those plans might make them more helpful to you than the updated version of your previous plan.
Give yourself a deadline. You don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute before your open enrollment window closes to understand your options. Set a time well before the actual cutoff to research plans, ask questions (and get answers) from your benefits team or the insurance carrier, and perhaps get suggestions from a tax or financial professional too.
Open enrollment FAQs
How do you get health insurance outside of open enrollment?
Typically, you can get health insurance outside open enrollment by qualifying for a special enrollment period (SEP) because of a life event. Common life events include marriage or birth or adoption of a child. You might also qualify if you lose your previous health insurance because you or their partner lost a job or went from full-time to part-time, or because your income made you ineligible for Medicaid or CHIP.
But you’ve got to act fast: You must make changes within 60 days of a qualifying event for Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage, and you might have as few as 30 days for employer-sponsored plans. Or, if you qualify for Medicaid or CHIP, you could get health insurance at any time because there’s no open enrollment period for those.
Can you change health insurance outside of open enrollment?
Yes, but you typically can only make changes to your health insurance plan outside open enrollment if you have a qualifying life event. As with any special enrollment period, you usually have between 30 to 60 days following the life event to make changes.
Do you have to wait until open enrollment to get health insurance at a new job?
No, you might be able to get health insurance right away. It depends on the company. Some employers have waiting periods of 30 to 90 days before an employee is entitled to benefits. Others have new employees wait until the start of the next full month they’ll be working to get coverage. These waiting periods don’t tend to be tied to open enrollment though. It’s a good idea to ask when you could enroll in an employer-sponsored health plan before you accept any role.