Affordable Care: when you can change plans and when you can’t

Can I change health insurance plans any time I want to under the Affordable Care Act?

Whimsical Flyer

Dear Whimsical Flyer,

No, you can only change your health insurance plan at open enrollment or when you have a status change (e.g. getting married, having a child, etc.).

This is widely misunderstood.  I have even heard otherwise knowledgeable talk radio show hosts tell listeners to wait until they are sick to buy health insurance.  This will not work, unless your illness conveniently happens just before open enrollment.

Open enrollment for the non-group, individual plans sold on the marketplace started October 1, 2013 and will end March 31, 2014.  It’s a long open enrollment for this first year.  Next year, it will only be in the fall for a January 1, 2015 start date.  (Note: open enrollment for employer plans is not affected by any of this.  These will happen as they always have on whatever month the employer has chosen.)

So, what if something happens during the year like you change jobs or lose your job?  Changing or losing jobs is considered a status change.  At that point, you could go to the health insurance marketplace and qualify for subsidies since you no longer have an employer plan offered to you.

In short, when you have an actual need to change health insurance, you can.  If it’s just that you decide that you want to enroll in coverage or a lower deductible, you have to wait for open enrollment.

Linda Riddell

About Linda Riddell

A published author and health policy analyst with 25 years’ experience, Linda Riddell's goal is to alleviate the widespread ailment of not knowing what your health plan can do for you.