Open enrollment to buy health insurance for 2018 ended nationwide on December 15, 2017, but people living in some states may still be able to get major medical coverage. In states that created their own exchanges under Obamacare, residents have a little more time to buy health insurance for next year – but time is running out. Today, January 23, is the last day to buy coverage if you live in Massachusetts. If you live in California, New York or the District of Columbia, you have until Wednesday, January 31 to enroll in a health plan.
Under the Affordable Care Act, open enrollment periods were created to make sure that people signed up for major medical plans before they got sick, which is why there’s a limited time frame to sign up each year. This year’s enrollment period lasted just six weeks for most of the country. Some states with state-based exchanges kept enrollment to the original deadline of January 31 after the Trump administration cut the signup period in half last fall.
For Massachusetts residents, today is the final day to enroll in a qualifying health plan. The ACA currently mandates that most Americans must maintain qualifying (or “ACA compliant”) major medical coverage for at least nine months of the year. This coverage prevents discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, includes 10 essential health benefits and offers other consumer protections, among them caps on out-of-pocket spending.
Last month, President Trump signed a tax reform bill that will eliminate the individual mandate beginning in 2019. The mandate is still in effect for this year. Those who don’t sign up for a qualifying health plan and don’t meet the requirements for an exemption will owe a tax penalty next year.
Health plans for people who signed up before the nationwide deadline of December 15 took effect on January 1. In states with longer deadlines, effective dates of coverage will vary. If you signed up by January 15, your coverage should start on February 1. For people who sign up after January 15 but before their state’s deadline of January 31, coverage will take effect on March 1.
This week marks the final week for 2018 open enrollment in the remaining states with extended deadlines, which are New York, the District of Columbia, and California. Special enrollment periods exist for people who experience qualifying life events like marriage or adoption. Those who need coverage but don’t qualify for a special signup period will need to wait until open enrollment next fall or find alternative plans, such as short-term health insurance.