For millions of people, it’s time to compare benefits and prices and pick health coverage on the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplaces.
Open enrollment on those plans started on Nov. 1 and typically lasts through Jan. 15, though that will be extended to Jan. 16 in 2024 due to a federal holiday.
Enrollment has set records in each of the past four years due in part to increased premium tax credits that have been extended through 2025, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
As of February, 15.6 million people had enrolled in an ACA marketplace plan for 2023 and paid the first month’s premium, according to the nonpartisan research and policy institute.
The enrollment will likely stay high this year, according to Jennifer Sullivan, director of health coverage access at the CBPP.
“People can continue to get really robust help with the cost of premiums,” Sullivan said.
Moreover, with some people set to lose Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage, they may need to move to marketplace coverage.
People who lost coverage via those plans who are moving to the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace will have a special enrollment period until the end of next July, Sullivan noted.
Importantly, that special enrollment period also allows them to enroll and start coverage sooner than January.
However, for everyone looking to enroll in a marketplace health plan for next year, it’s best to try to do it sooner rather than later.
In states that use the marketplace, you will need to enroll by Dec. 15 to make sure you’re covered on Jan. 1, according to Louise Norris, health policy analyst at Healthinsurance.org which provides consumers with educational resources on health insurance.
If instead you wait until January to enroll, your coverage won’t take effect until Feb. 1, she noted.
“Tell yourself the deadline is Dec. 15,” Norris said, “and try to get it done by then just so that you have the full year of coverage.”
The Affordable Care Act marketplace is available in 32 states. The 18 other states and Washington, D.C., use their own marketplaces and are free to set their own deadlines, Norris said.
For example, Idaho has an early open enrollment period that started Oct. 15 and ends on Dec. 15. Other states may extend their open enrollment through the end of January.
Regardless of where you live, you may use the “find local help” tool on Healthcare.gov. Once you enter in your ZIP code, you will see which plans are covered in your area.
Additionally, the Get Covered Connector provides navigators and other assistance by ZIP code, and appointments can be set up directly in the tool, Sullivan said.
The search may also help you find a list of brokers, navigators and enrollment counselors who are both licensed by the state and certified by the exchange.
Navigators are often best for complicated households, such as those where some family members are eligible for Medicaid while others are eligible for the marketplace, according to Sullivan.
“It’s important for people to know they can get free help understanding their options,” Sullivan said.
That free help may include assistance in filling out applications and understanding the questions asked from professionals who are not affiliated with insurance companies, she noted.
While it may be tempting to automatically renew your current exchange plan, which in most circumstances is possible, there are reasons to revisit your coverage, Norris said.
“You’re still better off picking your own plan,” she said.
Around 13 states will have new carriers entering the marketplace for 2024, she said. Meanwhile, Virginia will debut a new exchange next year.
“One of those new plans might be a good option for you,” Norris said. “And you won’t know, if you just let your plan renew and don’t go in there and actively look.”
If your health circumstances have changed, particularly if you want access to certain doctors or prescription medications, it’s also wise to research your options. Also be sure to pay attention to the size of the deductibles you will need to pay, she said.
Nine out of 10 people enrolled in marketplace plans around the country will get premium subsidies next year, according to Norris.
Also, nearly half of enrollees will get cost-sharing reductions that may reduce their deductibles or out-of-pocket costs, she said.
A subsidy calculator on Healthinsurance.org may help you check your eligibility.
Further, some states offer their own subsidies that may help lower costs.