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How to get health insurance after open enrollment ends

Open enrollment for the federal Health Insurance Marketplace typically runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 annually. (Several states, in the past, have extended the deadline past Dec. 15.) During the six-week period, customers are offered the opportunity to enroll in new healthcare coverage, switch their current health plan to a new one, and/or apply for cost assistance. Plans that were enrolled in during that time frame take effect on Jan. 1 of the next year. 

Since millions of Americans have applied for jobless aid due to the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous people are faced with another challenge: losing their health insurance. If you’re no longer receiving medical benefits, here’s how to get health insurance after open enrollment. 

Can you sign up for health insurance outside of open enrollment?

It is possible to obtain health insurance or change your Marketplace plan after the open enrollment period only if you experience at least one “life event” that qualifies for a Special Enrollment Period

It’s important to note that you may not qualify for cost assistance if you’re enrolling in health coverage after the annual open enrollment period. Individuals who do not qualify for coverage in 2020 through a Special Enrollment Period can enroll in health insurance during regular ACA open enrollment for 2021 starting Nov. 1, 2020. 

Medicare also has a list of qualifying events for a Special Enrollment Period. However, unless you have low income (qualifying for a program like Medicaid, the Medicare Savings Program, or Part D Extra Help), a late enrollment into any part of Medicare B may result in a higher premium, according to medicare.gov. If you qualify for one of these low-income programs, you may be able to expand your eligibility for certain parts of Medicare, as well, outside of the usual enrollment periods described above. 

How to get health insurance after open enrollment 

If you’re looking to enroll in a health insurance plan after the open enrollment deadline, here are a few options: 

1. Marketplace Special Enrollment Period 

A qualifying life event for a Special Enrollment Period is defined as: 

  • A change in household (marriage/divorce, having or adopting a baby, etc.)
  • A change in residence
  • A loss in coverage
  • Becoming a U.S. citizen 
  • Gaining membership in a federally recognized tribe or status as an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) Corporation shareholder 
  • Starting or ending service as an AmeriCorps State and National, VISTA, or NCCC member

In order to find out if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period for Marketplace plans, visit healthcare.gov to answer a few questions. If you do qualify, begin by filling out an application on the government’s website, along with visiting this section of the site to review the current plans and pricing. 

2. Medicare Special Enrollment Periods

There are separate enrollment periods for people with Medicare. 

  • Initial enrollment period: Sign up for Medicare Part A and/or Part B within seven months of the time you first become eligible for Medicare through age or disability.
  • Fall open enrollment period: Reevaluate and make changes to your Medicare or Medicare Advantage coverage, or your Part D coverage, from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.
  • General enrollment period: The time period between Jan. 1 and Mar. 31 of every year is when you can enroll in Medicare Part B for the first time. You may be eligible to enroll in a Medicare Advantage (Part C) or a prescription drug (Part D) plan in Apr. 1 to Jun. 30 of the same year with coverage starting on Jul. 1.  

Similar to Marketplace plans, Medicare also has Special Enrollment Periods. You may qualify for a Medicare Special Enrollment Period if you meet any of these eligibility requirements, which includes losing coverage through no fault of your own, moving to or from institutional facilities, and experiencing changes in your eligibility for certain programs.

3. Medicaid or CHIP

Affordable health plans with Medicaid and CHIP are available throughout the year regardless of the date. If you qualify for one or both of these programs, enrollment can begin immediately. The first step is finding out if you qualify for Medicaid and/or CHIP by answering a few questions on healthcare.gov. If you do qualify for Medicaid and/or CHIP, you have the option of applying for coverage either through the Health Insurance Marketplace or through the Medicaid agency within your state. Visit healthcare.gov to learn more about these types of coverage. 

4. Short-term health insurance plans

Also referred to as term-health insurance or temp insurance, short-term plans are available in some states for purchase throughout the year. This type of coverage can bridge the gap between policies. While these plans do cover others in your family, they are not required to cover the numerous benefits that are covered by ACA plans (such as preventive care, prescription drug coverage and laboratory services), along with covering preexisting conditions, according to UnitedHealthcare. Short-term insurance can be cancelled anytime without a penalty. Visit healthinsurance.org to find out if your state offers this type of policy. If you lost your health insurance due to job loss or changes, you might also qualify for COBRA continuation coverage, which you can learn more about here

5. Supplemental health insurance

Supplemental health insurance plans are designed to help individuals and families pay for extra costs that are not offered in their primary policy during hospital stays (for example, deductibles and a private room), according to State Farm. Aetna states that supplemental insurance may also help with essential bills, such as mortgage and groceries. Plans vary per state and insurance carrier. 

The cost of being uninsured

There’s no doubt about it—purchasing health benefits for yourself and/or your family is costly. Valuepenguin.com, a personal finance site owned by LendingTree, estimates that the average monthly premium ranges from $323 to $732 per person. Cost is the primary reason why people forego health insurance.

Based on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), up until 2018, people who did not purchase a plan or have health insurance through their employer, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.—but could afford to buy health insurance—were charged a fee (also known as the Individual Shared Responsibility Payment or Individual Mandate) when filing federal taxes. While this tax penalty no longer applies on the federal level—a change that took place in 2019—four states issued their own fine for not having coverage, including: 

  • The District of Columbia 
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • Vermont

However, just because there’s no longer a federal tax penalty for not having insurance, doesn’t mean that there aren’t other financial risks associated with being uninsured. 

According to statistics compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, individuals without coverage tend to be charged higher rates by hospitals compared to patients who have insurance through a private company or public program. Also, those without benefits for one full year pay more than one-third of their emergency visits or routine healthcare appointments out-of-pocket—where 64% are unable to pay their mounting medical bills, possibly leading to difficulty in affording basic necessities, as well as bankruptcy.

Plus, studies have shown that those without health insurance are less likely to receive preventive care and medical services for serious illnesses and chronic health conditions. Regardless of the insurance carrier, health insurance plans offer free preventive care for children and adults (such as screenings, vaccines and annual check-ups) as long as the service is provided by a physician within the network.

Additional ways to save without health insurance

While not a health insurance plan, SingleCare is a prescription discount plan that offers a free discount card to reduce the price of prescription medications for those with or without insurance. If you are without insurance or are paying the cash price for your medication, you could see up to 80% savings with our card. We have partnered with more than 35,000 pharmacies nationwide (including CVS, Target, Walgreens and Walmart), so start by searching for your medication today at singlecare.com.