Which Open Enrollment Year Is It?

Updated on: October 1st, 2020

Reviewed by Garrett Ball

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As you may be aware, the annual Open Enrollment Period (OEP) for healthcare occurs during the fall each year.  Open Enrollment Period 2021 begins on November 1.

Even though it’s currently 2020, people add next year’s date to this year’s open enrollment. Our current open enrollment is called “Open Enrollment Period 2021.” So why is this? We all know what year it is, right?

Reasons Behind the Open Enrollment Name

Health insurance companies do indeed know what year it is. However, that is not how naming conventions for OEP work. This enrollment period is referred to as OEP 2020 because you are choosing plans that will take effect on January 1, 2020. OEP 2021 plans will take effect on January 1, 2021.

OEP 2020 ended on December 18, 2019.

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How to Remember the ACA Open Enrollment Year

To easily determine which OEP year it is, think of what year you will be using the health insurance, not what year you will be performing the actual enrollment.

Looking to the future, to when the plan will actually be used, is an easy way to keep everything straight. During this upcoming open enrollment period, you are signing up for plans for 2021, so it is OEP 2021.

Who’s Calling This OEP7?

We’re all clear on OEP 2020 vs. OEP 2021, but you may have heard policymakers refer to Open Enrollment Period 2020 as “OEP7”. What does that mean?

Simply put, some folks call this OEP7 because this is the seventh open enrollment period that has occurred since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010. Last year was OEP6, and next year will be OEP8. OEP1 took place in 2014.

How Long is Open Enrollment?

OEP 2020 was just over six weeks long, which was about as long as OEP 2019 but shorter than it has been in years before that. OEP1 was 26 weeks long, and subsequent years were still longer than 12 weeks. However, in 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services reduced the open enrollment period to just six weeks.

If you miss this six-week window, you could potentially be without health insurance for the upcoming calendar year. However, there could be exceptions based upon where you live. For instance, California residents have until January 31 while those in Massachusetts can sign up by January 23. Note: California re-opened sign-ups until April 30 for anyone unfamiliar with new state laws subsidies or penalties for not having individual insurance.1 

What is the ACA Special Enrollment Period?

Another way you can get insurance outside of the Open Enrollment Period is during a special enrollment period. Special enrollment periods occur whenever you encounter a qualifying life event. If one of these life events occurs, you are allowed to enroll in health insurance, without penalty, within 60 days of that event.

Events include things like getting married, getting divorced, having a baby, or having COBRA insurance expire. Typically, documents proving these life events have occurred are required. A full list of qualifying life events and further details on special enrollment periods can be found here.

What Year Is the Medicare Open Enrollment Period?

What most people call Medicare Open Enrollment is technically named the Annual Election Period (AEP). AEP ends on December 7, one week before ACA open enrollment finishes. Medicare Open Enrollment goes by the same “one year in the future” standard. Medicare’s AEP runs from October 15 through December 7. You can also sign up during the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period that begins on January 1 and ends on March 31. You are limited to what changes you can make, but you can switch from one Medicare Advantage plan to another or you can switch from a Medicare Advantage plan back to Original Medicare with a stand-alone Part D plan.

Importance of Knowing the OEP Year

You can see why it is important to know when open enrollment occurs. OEP 2021 starts in a few weeks. If you were to think that since it was called “2021,” it was happening next year, you might have missed the six-week window for coverage and be uninsured for next year.

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