What to Check Before You Renew Health Insurance for 2021

Updated on: September 10th, 2020

Reviewed by Louise Norris

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When you signed up for health insurance last year, did you agree to automatically re-enroll? If you did and are set to auto-enroll in your same insurance plan, it’s important to review your policy before the December 15 health insurance open enrollment deadline, so you don’t regret your choice come January.

Take some time before the end of each year to make sure there are no changes that could increase your health insurance spending or affect your covered services.

Automatic Health Insurance Renewal Will Happen Immediately After December 15

Since 2017, automatic health insurance renewal now takes place after it’s too late to change your health coverage for the next year. For most Americans, December 15 is your last chance to sign up for health insurance. On the next day, you’ll be auto-enrolled in your current health insurance plan (some states have later enrollment deadlines; make sure you understand how it works in your state).

Protecting Yourself During Health Auto Enrollment

1. Speak with Your Current Healthcare Provider

First, make a phone call to confirm that you’re currently signed up for auto-renew health insurance. You should also use this call to find out what plan you’re being auto-enrolled in.

  • Call your health insurance company via phone number on your insurance card, or
  • You can also contact the federal government’s enrollment help center at 1-800-318-2596. But you’ll need to search for your state’s health insurance exchange enrollment number if you live in one of these 13 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington state, as well as the District of Columbia (New Mexico and Pennsylvania are also working towards having their own state-run exchanges by the fall of 2020)

2. Find Your Monthly Premium Discount

You can try to calculate your monthly subsidy amount on your own or use one of several available subsidy calculators on the Internet.

3. Compare Available Plans to Your Current Plan

If you use HealthCareInsider.com’s comparison engine, we can compare your auto-enrollment plan with a range of health insurance options. You can also do this yourself by calling an independent, licensed health insurance agent via our site. It’s free to get price quotes and details for thousands of plans. Then, you can decide whether you’d like to stick with auto-enrollment, or choose a better deal.

On a single page, you can compare:

  • On-Marketplace plans (private plans, compliant with the Affordable Care Act, listed for sale on government websites);
  • Off-Marketplace plans (ACA-compliant private plans for sale outside of the government-run health insurance exchange); and
  • Non-ACA options, like temporary health insurance.

Below is our cheat sheet for comparing the most important parts of health insurance:

Deductible and maximum out-of-pocketYour deductible is the amount of money that you pay entirely on your own before your plan starts to cover costs that are subject to the deductible. Once you meet the deductible, you’ll typically pay a percentage of the costs (coinsurance) until you hit your plan’s maximum out-of-pocket. After that, the plan will pay for the rest of your covered, in-network services for the rest of the year.
Copayments for servicesThis is what you pay when you have services such as visiting the doctor or filling a prescription, if your plan has copays (some plans count these services towards the deductible instead).
Monthly premiumThis is how much you have to pay each month to stay enrolled. Subsidies may help pay for part or all of this cost.
Plan type and provider networkFind something with costs that are equal to or better than what you’re about to auto-enroll in, then look into the nitty-gritty of plan types and coverage. The main difference between plan types is the procedure for seeing doctors, and the number of doctors available. Research the individual plan you’ve chosen to see what doctors are covered in your area.

4. Cancel Your Auto-Enrollment, If You Have to

  • Call your insurance company, or
  • According to the federal health exchange,
    1. Log into this year’s application on healthcare.gov or your state’s exchange. 
    2. On the “My Coverage” page of your application, select the blue “STOP COVERAGE” button at the bottom of the page.
    3. Call your insurance provider and confirm.

You can also cancel your insurance without selecting a new plan. Keep in mind, though, that if you do this, then it will effectively leave you without health insurance. And once open enrollment has ended, you won’t be able to sign up for coverage until the following year unless you experience a qualifying event that triggers a special enrollment period (and even then, many special enrollment periods only allow you to change your coverage, as opposed to newly-enroll).

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Why Pay Attention to Automatic Enrollment?

Health insurance sold under the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) only lasts for a maximum of one year. When you first picked a health plan, you may have chosen to automatically renew your healthcare plan for as long as five years. Initially, this was designed to be harmless for consumers; however, health insurance companies routinely change their offerings from one year to the next, leaving consumers with a different policy than the one they initially chose.

Here are reasons why automatic health insurance renewal can affect consumers:

1. No More Chance to Cancel

In the early years of ACA implementation, auto-renewals took place with weeks of the annual signup period left to spare. Now open enrollment ends in mid-December in most states. Once your current plan has been auto-renewed – or subbed with a different plan if your previous plan isn’t available – you can’t switch to something else. (Previously, if you were auto-enrolled in a bad health plan, you still had a chance to switch your coverage, because open enrollment extended into the new year.)

2. Auto-Renewal Can Hurt You

You might assume that if your current plan is no longer being sold, or if it drastically changes, that an auto-enrollment alarm would go off. This isn’t the case. Health insurance renewal keeps chugging along (you will be notified of the impending auto-renewal and potential plan change, but you might not notice the notification among the rest of the mail you receive).

Your current health insurance provider can choose which plan to auto-enroll you in, and it’s required to pick something as close as possible to what you previously had. But it might not be the plan you would’ve picked for yourself. 

If your health insurance provider is no longer around to give input, then you may be sent automatically to a plan that has just a few similarities to your current plan, even if it isn’t what you want.

3. You Can Be Switched to a Different Policy, Company, or Metal Level

Your health insurer might auto-enroll you in a different plan, and you wouldn’t know until after it happens. “I worried, did someone hack my account to sign me up for this?” a shocked consumer asked in The New York Times.1

4. Cost Changes to Current Plans

Even if you’re going to enroll in the same plan you had last year, health insurance plans aren’t the same every year. Coverage amounts can change, and monthly prices can increase by seemingly random amounts — especially if you’re receiving premium subsidies and the changes in the subsidy amount differ from the changes in your plan’s pre-subsidy premium. And the highest allowable out-of-pocket maximums increase each year by several hundred dollars, which means your deductible and out-of-pocket maximum might increase even if the rest of your plan stays the same.

5. New Options Are Very Competitive

Government fights over the fate of Obamacare have turned the market upside-down. In many states, generous gold-level plans now cost less than silver-level plans. A new, potentially free (depending on your income) option known as the expanded bronze plan has also entered the mix. 

6. Changes Could Be A Surprise

In some ZIP codes, new carriers have entered. In others, if your insurance company left, you could be assigned to the more expensive of two companies. Some companies even canceled their plans, only to replace them with similar options.

7. You Could Miss Out on Discounts

If you auto-enroll without adjusting your income and household information, you could be losing out on generous subsidies in your favor. You might also be receiving advance credit payments on your premium based on outdated information, which means you might end up owing money to the government. 

Taking the Next Steps

It’s important to shop around every year for a different health insurance policy – even if you are satisfied with your current policy. Before auto-renewing your health insurance plan, make sure you evaluate any changes that could prevent you from seeking care.

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Article Sources
  1. Pear, Robert. “An Obamacare Surprise in the Mail: New Insurers and New Costs.” The New York Times, December 11, 2017 (accessed December 2018).