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Buying a Health Plan

In the market for a health care plan? Don’t worry, we’re here to help you understand the shopping process. We’ll explain when you can get health insurance before we go through your options for how to buy a plan.

young man smiling while looking at health plans on his phone

When can you get health insurance?

If you’re looking to buy your own health insurance plan, you’ll need to know when to shop. Unfortunately, you can’t get a plan whenever you want; you have to purchase health insurance during specific windows of time. These time periods are called Open Enrollment and Special Enrollment.

Open Enrollment Period

The annual Open Enrollment Period (OEP) is a time when you can enroll in a health insurance plan, make changes to your current health plan or cancel your health plan. 

For individual and family plans, Open Enrollment typically runs from November 1 through December 15. For 2022 plans though, Open Enrollment will run until January 15. 2022. However, if you’re enrolling through an employer, you may have a different Open Enrollment Period.

Important dates for 2022 Open Enrollment

  • November 1, 2021 – Open Enrollment begins. This is the first day to enroll or change your insurance plan.
  • December 15, 2021 – Open Enrollment usually ends on this day, but for 2022 coverage, this is the last day to enroll or change plans for coverage that starts on January 1.
  • January 1, 2022 – If you’ve enrolled by December 15, this is when your 2022 coverage starts.
  • January 15, 2022 – Open Enrollment ends for 2022 plans.
  • February 1, 2022 – If you enroll between December 16, 2021, and January 15, 2022, this is when your 2022 coverage starts.

Special Enrollment Period

Even if it’s outside of the Open Enrollment Period, you still may be able to buy health insurance if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (SEP). Special Enrollment Periods must be triggered by specific events, called qualifying life events. 

Qualifying life events include:

  • Getting married or divorced
  • Having or adopting a child
  • Relocating
  • Losing health coverage
  • Becoming a U.S. citizen
  • Household income below 150% of the federal poverty level (as of 2022)

Generally, a Special Enrollment Period lasts for 60 days after the date of the qualifying life event. Within that time period, you’re able to purchase a new health insurance plan, and you should have the same plan options as you would during OEP.

If your household income is currently below 150% of the federal poverty level, you may apply for individual under 65 coverage any time during 2022. You’ll most likely also be eligible for financial assistance toward the premium of health plan coverage, which could lower your monthly payments, in some cases to $0, if you qualify.

Missed Enrollment?

If you missed the Open Enrollment deadline and don’t qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, you don’t have to go without coverage. You may be able to find a short-term health plan to help provide coverage while you’re between plans. 

It’s important to note that short-term plans typically last between 3 months to 364 days, can base their premiums off your medical history, and don’t commonly cover pre-existing conditions. But they can help offer you peace of mind with health coverage on covered services from unexpected medical emergencies when you’re outside of an enrollment period.  

How to apply for health insurance

Now that you know when to apply for health insurance, you should explore your options for how to buy your own health insurance. Outside of getting health insurance through an employer, these options include the Health Insurance Marketplace, a licensed agent or broker, directly from an insurance company, and an online health insurance brokerage.

Health Insurance Marketplace

If you’re looking to qualify for financial assistance, one option is to use the government online shopping tool, Health Insurance Marketplace (also called the health insurance exchange). There, you’re able shop and compare health plans and apply online.

Licensed agent or broker

If you’d like help, you may want to contact a local licensed agent or broker. They are trained professionals who consult with you, helping to determine your health care needs and then matching plans that best meet your needs and budget. Depending on the health plans they represent, these agents also have additional information on some of the special perks and savings available.

Directly from a health insurance company

If you have certain health insurance companies you are interested in buying a plan from, you can always shop their plans directly, either by calling them or exploring their websites. This will give you more insight into the plans offered by specific insurers, since the Marketplace doesn’t include every single health plan out there. Most insurers have tools that allow you to compare all their plans.

However, this will only give you insight into the plans offered by that specific company. If you wish to compare across insurers, you can visit the website of each one that interests you. 

Online health insurance brokerage

Often called private exchanges or private enrollment websites, these online brokerages can help you compare health plans and even offer to find the best available plan for you. These sites will not show you all plans available and instead prioritize showing plans that will earn them a commission, so be aware that they will not offer you a full look into your options.

Frequently Asked Questions

For individually purchased non-Medicare health plans with coverage effective Jan. 1, 2022, the Open Enrollment Period (OEP) for 2022 begins on Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15. In 2022, there is an extension. You can enroll from Dec. 16 through Jan. 15 for a Feb. 1, 2022 effective date. For the latter option, be aware you will not have health coverage in January.

Unfortunately, there are specific periods of time (Open Enrollment and Special Enrollment) during which you must buy health insurance. If you’ve missed Open Enrollment, you cannot buy an individual and family plan, unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. You may be able to buy short-term health insurance to offer you some coverage until it’s time for an enrollment period. 

In 2022, under the federal American Rescue Act, people with a household income less than 150% of the federal poverty level may qualify to enroll in Marketplace coverage at any time. The effective date of your coverage will depend on the month and day you enroll.

There are certain requirements you must meet to be eligible for Medicare. Learn more on our Medicare Eligibility & Enrollment page.

Learn More About Health Insurance

  • How to Choose a Plan >

    Ready to take the next step? Explore our guide on how to choose the right plan for you when shopping for health insurance.

Policies have limitations and exclusions. The amount of benefits provided depends on the plan selected and the premium may vary with the amount of benefits selected.

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