The health insurance Open Enrollment Period for 2020 will be over in a flash, putting pressure on Americans to make quick decisions about their healthcare coverage.
Last year, eight states rejected the 6-week heath insurance open enrollment period laid out by the Trump administration, and instead set new deadlines that extended beyond the federal government’s 2019 timeline. This year, six states have already taken action.
When Is Open Enrollment for Health Insurance?
The national Open Enrollment Period when you can join a health insurance plan for 2020 is six weeks long – lasting from November 1, 2019 to December 15, 2019. Until 2017, every other Open Enrollment Period we’ve had was two to four times longer. More states could challenge this little-known provision in the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare” or “ACA”), but there’s not much time left.
When Does Open Enrollment End? It Depends on Where You Live
Six States Extend 2020 Open Enrollment for Health Insurance
So far, six states have quietly moved to extend 2020 open enrollment for health insurance far beyond the federal deadline.
Instead of ending health insurance open enrollment on December 15, 2019, every health insurer in these states must participate in open enrollment for the 2020 plan year through the following deadlines:
- California: October 15, 2019 – January 15, 2020
- Colorado: November 1, 2019 – January 15, 2020
- District of Columbia: November 1, 2019 – January 31, 2020
- Massachusetts: November 1, 2019 – January 23, 2020
- Minnesota: November 1, 2019 – December 23, 2019
- New York: November 1, 2019 – January 31, 2020
Shoutout to California, New York and the District of Columbia for thumbing their nose at the 2020 health insurance open enrollment dates. Their open enrollment periods last far longer than other states.
Which Other States Can Still Extend Their Health Insurance Open Enrollment Period?
Health insurance open enrollment extensions for Obamacare could be seen as a partisan issue, with Democrats in favor of longer enrollment periods and Republicans against them. However, open enrollment benefits are popular enough for very fine folks on all sides to have embraced them in the past.
Not every state can change the dates for the upcoming open enrollment for health insurance. These four states have previously changed their open enrollment dates at the last minute, and may do so again:
Two additional states have extended their Open Enrollment Period in the past, but declined to do so last year:
One state did not have the ability to extend its Open Enrollment Period in the past, but is now able to do so for 2020:
It’s quite likely that one of these seven additional states will lengthen their health insurance open enrollment before the year is over.
States can extend open enrollment at any time, even once it’s already underway. For instance, Maryland waited until the last day it could to extend its open enrollment.
Facing a Shrinking Health Insurance Open Enrollment
Obamacare’s first Open Enrollment Period for 2014 was 26 weeks long – that’s half of a year. For 2015, open enrollment was decreased to 16 weeks. For both 2016 and 2017, the health insurance Open Enrollment Period lasted 13 weeks.
In April 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services shocked insurance producers by reducing the 2018 Open Enrollment Period to six weeks. By announcing the change in the middle of the year, the government gave consumers minimal warning to prepare for a busier enrollment period. Local community groups that work to sign their neighbors up for healthcare were equally off-guard.
However, since the Affordable Care Act was first passed, the Open Enrollment Period was set to decrease to just 6 weeks by 2019. We’ve had it happen twice before and it appears to be the new normal.
Six weeks is a lot shorter than you’d imagine. For the last enrollment period, Americans were already starting to lose healthcare because they missed open enrollment; 2017 was the first time in which individual health plan membership dropped in Obamacare’s history.
What’s the Purpose of Open Enrollment for Health Insurance Anyway?
Were you healthy when you first bought health insurance? You pay your health insurer a little bit every month, and they give back a lot when you need care. If everyone waited until they were sick to buy insurance, then there would be no money for insurers to give back.
To solve this enrollment problem, the Affordable Care Act created this national Open Enrollment Period. During this annual health insurance open enrollment, everyone is supposed to buy or re-enroll in health insurance all at once. Outside of this Open Enrollment Period, buying healthcare becomes difficult.
Why Are Longer Health Insurance Open Enrollment Periods Better?
Open enrollment is your best chance to:
- Get a different insurance company, or
- Change your health insurance network type.
A great deal of flexibility disappears with a six-week open enrollment period. Smaller advertising budgets mean that there won’t be a whole lot of warning for consumers before open enrollment begins. The federal government has even decided to end nonprofit programs that let people know about open enrollment and help them sign up for insurance.
And This Year Isn’t Just Shorter
Several other changes were made over the past few years that will magnify the impact of a shorter health insurance Open Enrollment Period.
No More Individual Mandate: The tax penalty for going without health insurance no longer exists starting in 2019. This will remove one incentive to get health insurance in a timely manner, as stragglers can now rely on short-term insurance plans to fill coverage gaps instead. To date, only 4 states have added a local individual mandate.
Stricter Special Enrollment Requirements: Previously, the federal government would take your word for it if you tried to join a plan outside of open enrollment due to a special circumstance. As of this year, there are strict verification standards that involve sending the documents in a short period of time.
Removal of Non-Payment Loophole: Some consumers had also learned to stop paying their premiums in the months leading up to open enrollment. They bet that it would take a while for their coverage to be canceled, or even decided to lose coverage since they no longer needed it. This five-finger discount loophole was closed for 2018. Now, you’ll only be able to switch to new coverage if your old coverage is paid in full. Consumers – especially those who are behind on payments by accident – may not be able to learn about the issue, reconcile their bills, and sign up in time.
Price Swings on Health Plans: What’s more, recent uncertainty in health policy has caused insurers to make unpredictable price changes. According to one estimate, the cost of the most common health plans will rise by about 15 percent for 2019; another estimate says they will decrease by 1.6 percent. Although price changes will vary widely across different states, consumers will be in a difficult spot when deciding whether or not to enroll.
Why Would Anyone Shorten the Health Insurance Open Enrollment Period?
Insurers tend to be uncomfortable with a long health insurance open enrollment (even though they want customers). During open enrollment, people will wait to get sick before applying for coverage that a company is required to provide. Open enrollment must be short enough that insurers will be able to offer coverage without going broke, while still being a fair length for consumers who want to sign up.
At this point, the 2020 health insurance open enrollment is about as short as it can be. If you want lifespans to grow, you might want open enrollment to stop shrinking.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in 2018, then updated for 2019 and 2020.