Personal Health

Getting Started With the Open Enrollment Period

The open enrollment period for the health insurance marketplace is under way and runs through February 15, 2015. This period is the window of time during which most people can enroll in a plan by choosing from the coverage options provided in the new health insurance marketplace. This marketplace was created as part of the Affordable Care Act and is one way that you can now buy health insurance for yourself and your family. This is particularly important if you don't have employer-sponsored coverage available or if your employer-sponsored coverage doesn't meet your needs. With enough preparation, you'll enjoy a smooth process when you apply for coverage. Here's what you need to know:

The Basics

HealthCare.gov outlines five steps for enrolling in the marketplace, which is the collection of private insurance plans available to individuals.

  1. Create an account on the HealthCare.gov website.
  2. Fill out the application.
  3. Receive eligibility results for the coverage options that you qualify for based on your income and household size for 2015.
  4. Learn at this point whether you qualify for coverage through Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  5. Choose and finally enroll in the plan that best fits your needs.

Filling out the Application

You'll need certain documents and information handy when you apply for health insurance in the marketplace. To keep track of what you need, you can refer to this marketplace application checklist or receive updates via email or text to help you apply. You will need this information:

  • Addresses for everyone applying for coverage.
  • Social Security numbers for each person.
  • Employer and income information for each person in your household.
  • An estimate of your household income for 2015.
  • Policy numbers for your current health plan and for health plans covering anyone in your household.
  • A completed "Employer Coverage Tool" for every job-based plan that covers someone in your household.
  • Notices from your current plan that list your plan ID and whether you had coverage in 2014.

When you're ready, you can go to HealthCare.gov to apply and enroll. You can also apply by phone, on paper, or even request in-person assistance to complete your application.

Completing Enrollment

Make sure that your enrollment went through by checking your online account for a summary of your application, where you'll find additional details about enrollment and plan benefits. You can also call your insurance company to check your enrollment status and whether your first month's premium was paid. If you're run into issues, you can contact marketplace personnel for help.

Exceptions to the Rule

You may be eligible for special enrollment periods outside of open enrollment based on certain qualifying life events (following a 60-day period after they have occurred). Examples include losing your employer-sponsored or COBRA insurance, moving, marriage, divorce, or having a baby. If you are a member of a Native American tribe, you are also allowed to enroll outside the specified time period. Other more complex issues that are either personal or an error on the part of the enrollment system are also acceptable reasons for applying outside the standard window.

If you need health insurance, don't fret. You have options to make sure that you and your family are safe, and there are resources to help you find the coverage that you need during the open enrollment period.

Posted in Personal Health

Julia is a freelance journalist specializing in health, tech, lifestyle, and culture reporting. Her work has appeared in People.com, USA Today College, Parents.com, and Healthline, among other publications.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.