The 2015 annual open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act officially closed on February 15th. If you missed the deadline, and don’t currently have insurance you likely won’t have another opportunity to buy a health plan until open enrollment comes around again later this year.
(Special Note: The tax-time special enrollment period from March 15 to April 30, 2015 – for people who paid a penalty for being uninsured in 2014 – is now over.)
Not having health insurance this year may mean you have to pay a penalty – a fee that increases in 2015 to $325 per person or 2% of household taxable income, whichever is higher.
However, under the Affordable Care Act, certain changes to your life circumstances can trigger what is considered a “qualifying life event” that may make you eligible to sign up for health insurance outside of the annual open enrollment period. You have sixty days from the date of the event to enroll.
Here are 5 common qualifying life events that trigger eligibility for a special enrollment period.
1. Leaving or losing a job. If you lose or leave a job that offered you health insurance you now have several options to hold onto coverage.
You can either continue the policy offered by your employer under COBRA, or you can buy one on your own in the health insurance market at Healthcare.gov.
If your income qualifies, you may be able to get financial help paying for coverage when you shop through your state’s health insurance exchange.
Note, however, that if you opt to continue your current plan through COBRA, you’ll have to hold onto that policy until it ends or annual open enrollment comes around on November 1st. Cancelling COBRA before it expires does not count as a qualifying event triggering a special enrollment period.
2. Getting married. If you either gain or become a dependent through marriage, you qualify for a special enrollment period.
Once you’ve said “I do” make sure you begin the process of signing up as soon as possible. Don’t let the excitement over the honeymoon distract you from the 60-day window you have from the date of your wedding to change insurance plans or to add your spouse to an existing policy.
Also be aware that losing insurance coverage through divorce counts as a qualifying life event.
3. Having a baby. Once your baby is born, you’ll want to add her to your health plan as soon as possible to make sure all of her care is covered. Among other medical services, the Affordable Care Act covers a wide range of preventive services for children up to the age of 18, including immunizations, without any cost at the time of the visit.
4. Moving. Most health plans operate within a specific geographic area. If you permanently move to a new city or area outside where your current plan operates, you will qualify for a special enrollment period and have the chance to pick a new plan.
5. Change in citizenship status. Only U.S. citizens and legal immigrants are eligible under the Affordable Care Act to purchase health insurance through the federal and state marketplaces.
However, if outside the annual open enrollment period you become a U.S. citizen, national, or gain lawful status in the United States, you will become eligible to sign up for a health plan, and may qualify for tax credits to help lower the cost of coverage.
To see a full list of qualifying life events, visit Healthcare.gov. And, use the TurboTax Enrollment Guide to learn if you qualify for special open enrollment, as well as the cost of insurance and how to shop for health plans.