What to Know About Health Insurance Open Enrollment 2021

Here are all the dates, deadlines and details you need to know to get health insurance coverage for 2021.

Open Enrollment March 2021 Update

You now have through Aug. 15 to get or change health insurance coverage through the federal marketplace set up by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, thanks to a special enrollment period prompted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. You may be able to do the same if you live in a state that operates its own marketplace or exchange.

You have until Aug. 15 to get or change health insurance coverage for 2021 through the federal marketplace set up by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. You may be able to do the same if you live in a state that operates its own health insurance marketplace or exchange.

This is possible due to a special enrollment period President Biden extended to Americans in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Previously, you had to get 2021 health insurance coverage from the Obamacare marketplace between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15, 2020.

Not everyone gets health insurance coverage from the Obamacare marketplace, of course. Some people get it from an employer. Others get it from Medicare or Medicaid.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about the 2021 health insurance open enrollment dates and details associated with employer and Obamacare coverage.

It will also answer the most common open enrollment questions, including:

2021 special open enrollment period

You can get or change 2021 health insurance coverage from the federal Obamacare marketplace through Aug. 15.

Some states that operate their own health insurance marketplaces or exchanges might allow you to do the same. Check with your local entity to learn more.

If you make use of this 2021 special enrollment period, your coverage starts the first of the month after you select a plan.

When is open enrollment for health insurance 2021?

The 2021 Obamacare open enrollment period originally lasted from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, 2020. However, a special enrollment period prompted by the COVID-19 emergency is making it possible for people to get coverage for 2021 from the Obamacare health insurance marketplace through Aug. 15.

Within that window, you can enroll in, re-enroll in or change a health insurance plan through the marketplace — or exchange, as some call it.

You might have even longer to buy health insurance for 2021 if you live in one of these states or districts:

  • California 
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Idaho
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Washington, D.C.

Each of these states runs its own health insurance exchange or marketplace. Because of that, they can expand their open enrollment windows. Many did so in 2020.

If the states that extended open enrollment for 2020 do so again for 2021, you will be able to get health insurance between the following dates:

State 2021 open enrollment period
California Oct. 15, 2020, to Jan. 31, 2021
Colorado Nov. 1, 2020, to Jan. 15, 2021
Massachusetts Nov. 1, 2020, to Jan. 23, 2021
Minnesota Nov. 1, 2020, to Jan. 13, 2021
Nevada Nov. 1, 2020, to Jan. 15, 2021
New York Nov. 1, 2020, to Jan. 31, 2021
Pennsylvania Nov. 1, 2020, to Jan. 15, 2021
Rhode Island Nov. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020
Washington, D.C. Nov. 1, 2020, to Jan. 31, 2021
Note: California, Colorado and Washington, D.C., have permanently extended Obamacare open enrollment to the dates above.

When is open enrollment if I get health insurance from an employer?

The open enrollment periods tied to employer-sponsored health insurance plans often happen between October and December, too.

We can’t give you more specific dates because every employer sets its own health insurance open enrollment period.

So, if you get health insurance from an employer and you don’t know its open enrollment 2021 deadlines, check with human resources.

Is open enrollment only once a year?

Yes, health insurance open enrollment happens just once a year.

For example, unless you qualify for a special enrollment period, you can only get Obamacare coverage during the open enrollment period that starts at the end of the year. The same tends to be true of health coverage you get from an employer.

In other words, you usually can’t get health insurance any time you want.

When does 2021 health insurance coverage start?

Most 2021 health insurance plans start on Jan. 1.

If you want Obamacare coverage and you live in a state with expanded open enrollment, it may not take effect until later.

For example, if you live in California and you enroll in a marketplace plan after Dec. 21, 2020, it won’t take effect until Feb. 1, 2021. And if you live in New York and you enroll in a marketplace plan after Jan. 15, 2021, it won’t take effect until March 1 of the same year.

If you take advantage of the 2021 special enrollment period offered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, your coverage will start the first of the month after you choose a plan.

Most employer-sponsored health insurance plans also start on Jan. 1. That’s not true of all employers, though, so check with yours if you don’t know when its 2021 coverage begins.

Do I have to wait for open enrollment to get health insurance for 2021?

You have to wait for open enrollment to get coverage for 2021 through the health insurance marketplace or an employer.

The only way you can get these kinds of health insurance plans outside open enrollment is to qualify for a special enrollment period — like the one President Biden enacted via executive order that lasts until Aug. 15, 2021.

Open enrollment impacts on uninsured rates

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, QuoteWizard analysts have been tracking health insurance changes. And while the number of uninsured Americans has gone down overall in the last year, health insurance coverage varies wildly by state. Iowa, for example, saw a 44% increase in the number of uninsured residents, while Ohio had a 49% decrease in the uninsured rate.

Changes in uninsured rates by state
Rank State April 2020 Uninsured % February 2021 Uninsured % % Change in Uninsured
1 North Dakota 7.5% 11.6% 54.7%
2 Iowa 5.4% 7.8% 44.4%
3 Connecticut 7.6% 10.1% 32.9%
4 New Mexico 10.0% 12.9% 29.0%
5 Minnesota 6.0% 7.6% 26.7%
6 South Carolina 15.4% 19.5% 26.6%
7 Virginia 7.9% 9.8% 24.1%
8 Utah 10.3% 12.3% 19.4%
9 Hawaii 5.8% 6.8% 17.2%
10 Arkansas 10.3% 12.0% 16.5%
11 California 9.8% 11.2% 14.3%
12 Massachusetts 5.4% 5.8% 7.4%
13 North Carolina 11.6% 12.1% 4.3%
14 West Virginia 10.8% 11.1% 2.8%
15 Texas 24.4% 24.6% 0.8%
16 Idaho 11.9% 11.8% -0.8%
17 Rhode Island 5.5% 5.4% -1.8%
18 Louisiana 12.9% 12.5% -3.1%
19 Nevada 15.5% 14.9% -3.9%
20 Oregon 8.2% 7.8% -4.9%
21 Michigan 8.9% 8.2% -7.9%
22 Oklahoma 20.1% 18.5% -8.0%
23 South Dakota 10.7% 9.8% -8.4%
24 Washington 7.4% 6.6% -10.8%
25 Tennessee 17.4% 15.1% -13.2%
26 New Hampshire 9.8% 8.5% -13.3%
27 Maryland 6.4% 5.5% -14.1%
28 Arizona 16.8% 14.3% -14.9%
29 Wyoming 16.4% 13.8% -15.9%
30 Alabama 14.1% 11.8% -16.3%
31 Nebraska 10.9% 9.1% -16.5%
32 Kansas 15.6% 13.0% -16.7%
33 Mississippi 21.9% 17.8% -18.7%
34 Delaware 10.5% 8.5% -19.0%
35 Wisconsin 9.3% 7.5% -19.4%
36 Georgia 19.5% 15.5% -20.5%
37 Montana 9.7% 7.7% -20.6%
38 Indiana 11.9% 9.4% -21.0%
39 New York 9.0% 7.1% -21.1%
40 Missouri 17.9% 13.8% -22.9%
41 Pennsylvania 7.3% 5.6% -23.3%
42 Alaska 17.0% 13.0% -23.5%
43 New Jersey 8.6% 6.5% -24.4%
44 Colorado 10.6% 7.8% -26.4%
45 Kentucky 10.6% 7.6% -28.3%
46 Florida 15.7% 10.8% -31.2%
47 Illinois 15.0% 9.5% -36.7%
48 Maine 11.9% 6.5% -45.4%
49 Ohio 12.2% 6.2% -49.2%
50 Vermont 10.8% 4.7% -56.5%
-- United States 14.0% 13.% -7.3%
QuoteWizard analysts tracked health insurance coverage by monitoring changes in the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Household Pulse Survey.

Can I get health insurance outside of open enrollment?

You can get health insurance from the Obamacare marketplace or an employer outside open enrollment if you qualify for a special enrollment period.

To qualify for a special enrollment period, you need to go through a life change or qualifying life event like:

  • Getting married.
  • Getting divorced or legally separated and losing health insurance.
  • Having a baby, adopting a child or placing a child for foster care.
  • Moving to a new ZIP code or county.
  • Losing your job.
  • Losing health coverage — including Medicare, Medicaid or CHIP — for some other reason.

Keep in mind that you usually need to have gone through one of these life events in the last 60 days to qualify for a special enrollment period.

How do I get health insurance if I miss open enrollment?

You can still get health insurance coverage if you miss the 2021 open enrollment deadlines by:

  • Qualifying for a special enrollment period.
  • Getting a new or additional job that offers health insurance.
  • Getting short-term health insurance.
  • Qualifying for Medicaid or CHIP coverage.

March 2021 update: thanks to a special enrollment period prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, you can get or change health insurance coverage through the federal Obamacare marketplace through Aug. 15, 2021.

Is health insurance mandatory for 2021?

Health insurance is not mandatory for most Americans in 2021.

The Affordable Care Act used to require people to carry “qualifying health coverage.” Those who didn’t had to pay a fee when they filed their federal taxes.

The federal government no longer penalizes people for not having health insurance. Some states do, though. If you live in one of them, you will pay a fee with your state taxes if you don’t have health coverage in 2021.

These states currently require health insurance:

Washington, D.C., also requires health insurance coverage.

How do I apply for Obamacare?

You can apply for 2021 Obamacare coverage over the phone, through the mail or online.

Does your state run its own exchange or marketplace? If so, you’ll need to contact it or use its website to get health insurance coverage for 2021.

Don’t worry if you have no idea whether your state runs its own exchange. When you go to apply for Obamacare coverage at healthcare.gov, it will tell you.

Before you take any of the steps mentioned above, though, figure out which type of Obamacare plan is right for you.

What do I need to apply for Obamacare?

You need to have certain pieces of information and documents on hand when you apply for 2021 Obamacare coverage. They include:

  • Your Social Security Number.
  • The Social Security Numbers of anyone else who will be on your plan.
  • The birth dates and addresses of anyone your plan will cover.
  • W-2 statements or employer and income information for anyone your plan will cover.
  • Information about your current health insurance coverage (if you currently have coverage).
  • An estimate of your 2020 household income.

Is it too late to get health insurance for 2020?

It is too late to get 2020 health insurance coverage from the Obamacare marketplace or from an employer if you haven’t recently gone through a qualifying life event.

When was open enrollment for 2020?

Open enrollment for 2020 Obamacare health insurance coverage ran from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15,  2019, in most states. Some states extended open enrollment beyond that date.

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