The Affordable Care Act created a new open enrollment period for individual and family health insurance plans. The first open enrollment period is longer than in future years in order to give consumers a chance to understand their options and make a selection.
For health plans taking effect on January 1, 2014 consumers can begin enrolling in new health plans on October 1, 2013. In order to be effective on January 1, an application for coverage needs to be submitted by December 24, 2013. The open enrollment period for 2014 will extend to March 31, 2014. For those enrolling in January through March of 2014 coverage is expected to begin one month to six weeks following enrollment.
The open enrollment period for 2015 and later will begin on November 15th and end on February 15th. Those desiring coverage beginning January 1, 2015 must enroll in December 2014. People encountering events that change their circumstance during the year, such as birth of a child, have a special enrollment period, which is a period of time outside of the annual enrollment period when they can change their health plan.
Enrollment into a qualified health plan can be performed through a health exchange marketplace, an insurance company that sells plans on an exchange, or an insurance broker that is qualified to sell plans on the exchange.
After the conclusion of the annual open enrollment period, those consumers lacking health insurance coverage will find they are locked out of the individual insurance market until January 1st of the following year unless they have a life event that grants a "special enrollment period".