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  • Writer's pictureJo Soria

Can I Only Buy Health Insurance During Open Enrollment?

Health insurance is a crucial (but typically confusing) part of financial planning and healthcare management, and many Americans are unsure when they're eligible to obtain it.

Join the #TRN team as we clarify when and how you can buy health insurance and some circumstances that allow coverage outside of the standard timeframe.

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What is Open Enrollment?

Open enrollment is the designated annual period when consumers can enroll in an individual or family health insurance plan. For most Americans using the Marketplace, this period typically occurs from November 1 to December 15. During this time, you can apply for a new policy, switch policies, or change your existing coverage. Open enrollment ensures that everyone has a fair chance to secure health insurance each year.

Can I Buy Health Insurance Outside of Open Enrollment?

The short answer: it depends. And the answer to that question relies on a few different factors.

Shopping the Marketplace Outside of Open Enrollment

While open enrollment is the primary time to purchase health insurance through the Marketplace, there are exceptions known as Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs). SEPs allow individuals to buy health insurance outside the standard enrollment window under specific circumstances.

Qualifying Life Events for Special Enrollment Periods

Certain life events can trigger a SEP, enabling you to enroll in or change your health insurance plan through the Marketplace. Common life events that trigger a SEP include:

  • Loss of Health Insurance Coverage: If you lose your job-based coverage, are no longer eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, or your COBRA coverage ends.

  • Changes in Household: Events like getting married, having a baby, adopting a child, or experiencing a death in the family.

  • Changes in Residence: Moving to a new county or ZIP code, moving to the U.S. from a U.S. territory or foreign country, or moving to/from a shelter or transitional housing.

  • Other Situations: Becoming a U.S. citizen, leaving incarceration, or gaining membership in a federally recognized tribe.

How to Apply for Insurance During a Special Enrollment Period

To apply for health insurance during a SEP, you must typically provide documentation of the qualifying life event. This could be a letter from your employer, a marriage certificate, or other official documents. The SEP window usually lasts 60 days from the date of the qualifying event, so it's essential to act promptly.

Private Market Health Insurance 

If you purchase health insurance outside of the Marketplace, such as through a private insurer, open enrollment and special enrollment periods can still apply, but the specifics may vary by insurer. Private insurers often have similar rules regarding open and special enrollment periods, but you should check directly with the insurer for their specific guidelines.

Couple talking to health insurance agent; Buying health insurance; Open enrollment; TRN

Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance

Open enrollment periods are also typically observed for those obtaining health insurance through an employer. Employers usually have a designated time each year when employees can enroll in or make changes to their health insurance plans. Additionally, qualifying life events (similar to those recognized by the Marketplace) can allow for changes outside the open enrollment period.

Medicaid and CHIP Enrollment

It's important to note that Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are open for enrollment year-round. If you qualify for these programs based on your family size and income, you're eligible to apply at any time and do not need to wait for open enrollment.

Short-Term Health Insurance Plans

Another option outside open enrollment is short-term health insurance plans. These plans are designed to supply temporary coverage and can be purchased anytime during the year. However, they often come with limitations and may not cover pre-existing conditions or some essential health benefits included in Marketplace plans.

Where to go From Here? Ask an Expert

All of this to say, navigating the complexities of the health insurance industry can be pretty overwhelming; that's why we recommend consulting with a licensed health insurance agent. Here's why working with an agent can benefit you in your search for healthcare solutions:

  • Expert Knowledge: Health insurance agents are well-versed in the various plans available, the intricacies of coverage options, and the latest regulations. They can help you understand the differences between plans and what coverage best suits your needs.

  • Personalized Advice: Agents can assess your individual health needs and financial situation to recommend the most suitable insurance plans. They can also help you understand any subsidies or financial assistance you might qualify for.

  • Simplified Processes: The application process can be complicated, especially during special enrollment. Agents can guide you through the paperwork and ensure all necessary documentation is correctly submitted.

  • Ongoing Support: Your health insurance needs might change over time. An agent can provide continuous support, helping you adjust your coverage as needed and ensuring you're always adequately insured.

  • No Out-of-Pocket Expense: Yep, you read that right. You can access a licensed, fully vetted health insurance advisor at no out-of-pocket cost, leaving more money in your pocket and fewer headaches in your healthcare selection process.


Are we a health insurance agency? Nope. We're the matchmakers who've done the homework on health insurance agents and are ready and waiting to line you up with a licensed, trustworthy professional today. Totally free of charge. Just give us the word.


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