AMES, Iowa -- With the arrival of March, Iowans no longer can procrastinate when it comes to health insurance. When the annual open enrollment period ends on March 31, most people will be unable to purchase individual health coverage from any source until the next open enrollment period, set to begin Nov. 15, 2014.
“It has been widely publicized that the open enrollment period for the new Health Insurance Marketplace at www.healthcare.gov ends on March 31, but most people are unaware that the term open enrollment period applies not only to the official Health Insurance Marketplace, but also to all individual health insurance policies,” reports Suzanne Bartholomae, state family finance specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. “That means that outside of the designated open enrollment period, most people who want to purchase health insurance on the individual market will be unable to purchase health insurance anywhere.”
The 2014 open enrollment period was set for a full six months to provide time for people to learn about the new health insurance system. In the future, however, the annual open enrollment period will be shorter, about two months starting in autumn each year, Bartholomae said.
People who experience major life events, including events that cause them to lose their health insurance, will be eligible for a “special enrollment period,” which lasts 30-60 days. Examples of eligible life events include loss of insurance due to job loss or divorce , marriage, and birth or adoption of a child. As a result, people who have access to group insurance have no need to fear being left without options if they unexpectedly lose their group coverage. To learn more, go to www.healthcare.gov and search “special enrollment period.”
Group plans will continue to be open to new group members; for example, newly-hired employees will be able to enroll in the employer’s health insurance plan regardless of what time of the year they are hired or during their employer’s annual open enrollment. But those who purchase insurance in the individual market must do so this month or be prepared to wait until the fall 2014 open enrollment period for 2015.
Bartholomae urges anyone who is currently without health insurance to take action this month to enroll. Iowans who are concerned about cost may be eligible for financial assistance in paying their premiums, she said, and free insurance is available through the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan to those meeting income guidelines ($15,282 for a single individual or $31,322 for a family of four). Hawk-I (for children) and Medicaid also continue to be available, Bartholomae noted
Free assistance with health insurance enrollment is available. Find help at https://localhelp.healthcare.gov or at www.getcoveredamerica.org. ISU Extension and Outreach offers informational workshops about the changes brought by the Affordable Care Act. To learn more, go to www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/health-insurance or contact any ISU Extension and Outreach county office to find local workshops.
This information was supported by a grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services. The contents are solely the responsibility of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Department. US DHHS.