Open Enrollment Period


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Open Enrollment Period


The open enrollment period for the 2016 plan year began November 1, 2015 and ended January 31, 2016. The open enrollment period for the previous 2015 plan year began on November 15th 2014 and ended on February 15th 2015. People experiencing life events that change their circumstances during the year, such as childbirth or job loss, should review our special enrollment period article.

  • Applications submitted between the 1st and 15th days of the month shall result in coverage beginning the first day of the following month
  • Applications submitted between the 16th and the last day of the month shall result in coverage beginning the first day of the second following month

The Affordable Care Act created a new open enrollment period for individual and family health insurance plans. The first open enrollment period was longer than in future years in order to give consumers a chance to understand their options and make a selection. Consumers were able to begin enrolling in new health plans on October 1, 2013. In order for their plan to be effective on January 1, 2014, an application for coverage needed to be submitted by December 24, 2013. The open enrollment period for 2014 was initially scheduled to end March 31, 2014 in every marketplace, but this deadline was extended for most marketplaces.

Enrollment into an on-exchange 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.

Obamacare Lock Out Period

After the end of the open enrollment period, most consumers lacking health insurance coverage will be locked out of the individual insurance market until the beginning of the next open enrollment period. These consumers will not be able to get effective coverage under a qualified health plan from the individual insurance market until January 1, 2017 at the earliest, but before that time they can still enroll in other kinds of off-exchange insurance such as short-term or large group plans. However short-term insurance plans do not qualify as creditable coverage, so short- term plan enrollees may still face a tax penalty for not being enrolled in a qualified health plan.

The tax penalty for individuals not enrolled in qualified health plans in 2016 is the greater of 2.5% of annual household income or $695 per adult21. See our tax penalty article for more information. If an individual signs up late for a qualified health plan, then their penalty will be reduced by the proportion of time during which they were covered. Furthermore people that are uninsured for less than three months do not have to pay a penalty.22

During the lock out period, consumers in any marketplace can be granted a special enrollment period of sixty days if they have a qualifying life event.23 These events may include:24

  1. Exceptional circumstances (such as natural disasters, medical emergencies, and planned system outages) near the deadline
  2. Marriage
  3. Moving to a new location outside the provider network of their current plan
  4. Birth or adoption
  5. Losing existing health coverage
  6. Misinformation, misrepresentation, or inaction on the part of entities providing formal enrollment assistance
  7. Enrollment errors due to technical issues
  8. System errors related to immigration status
  9. Display errors on marketplace websites
  10. Delays in application transfers for consumers found ineligible for Medicaid or CHIP
  11. Error messages
  12. Unresolved casework
  13. Misinformation about availability of premium tax credits for victims of domestic abuse who are married but not filing a joint tax return
  14. Other system errors

Moreover there is no lock out period for Medicaid or CHIP, so eligible consumers can enroll in these programs at any time.25

Auto-Enrollment & Obamacare Subsidies

Consumers who enrolled in an Obamacare plan through the federal health insurance exchange are automatically enrolled in that same health plan for 2016 plan year. Any health insurance subsidies they received in 2015 could be applied to the 2016 plan year. Consumers interested in switching health plans, can do so during the Open Enrollment Period starting October 1, 2016 to December 15, 2016, though the dates may be subject to change.



1 When can consumers enroll in a plan through Health Insurance Marketplaces?
2 Guidance for Issuers on People “In Line” for the Federally-facilitated Marketplace at the end of the Initial Open Enrollment Period. (March 26, 2014)
3 Covered California Outlines Application Deadlines for Open Enrollment, Braces for Influx of Enrollees. (March 26, 2014)
4 Understanding the March 31 Deadline. (March 24, 2014)
5 Amanda Cuda. State relaxes health care deadline -- sort of. (April 1, 2014)
6 Jenna Blakely. Hawaii Health Connector joins federal exchange in softening March 31 enrollment deadline. (March 26, 2014)
7 Jennifer Corbett Dooren. Some Leeway on Health Insurance Coverage Deadline. (March 24, 2014)
8 Report from the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange about Maryland Health Connection, the state-based health insurance marketplace. (March 21, 2014)
9 The 2014 Open Enrollment Period Ends March 31, 2014. Find Out What You Need To Do! (March 21, 2014)
10 Important update for people who applied for insurance coverage without help paying for costs during open enrollment. (March 26, 2014)
11 Jess Bidgood. Massachusetts is Given Extension. (February 13, 2014)
12 Frequently Asked Questions. (March 24, 2014)
13 Sandra Chereb. Nevadans blocked by health exchange bugs get another 60 days to sign up. (March 20, 2014)
14 Frequently Asked Questions about the March 31, 2014 Open Enrollment Deadline - For Individuals & Families.
15 New Deadline Q & A.
16 HealthSource RI Reminds Rhode Islanders of March 31 Enrollment Deadline. (March 28, 2014)
17 Vermont Health Connect Open Enrollment Ends March 31. (March 26, 2014)
18 Washington Healthplanfinder Qualified Health Plan Enrollment Jumps to 125,000. (March 25, 2014)
19 Responding to High Demand, DC Health Link Continues Enrollment Into Mid- April. (March 26, 2014)
20 Kev Coleman, Jeffrey Smedsrud. 5 Myths about Short-Term Health Insurance. (December 17, 2013) /healthcare-research/infostat/five-myths-about-short-term-health-insurance
21 Guidance for Issuers on Special Enrollment Periods for Complex Cases in the Federally-facilitated Marketplace after the Initial Open Enrollment Period. (March 26, 2014) Guidance/Downloads/complex-cases-SEP-3-26-2014.pdf
25 Kev Coleman, Obamacare Open Enrollment Ends March 31st Despite Public Support for Extension. (March 7, 2014) /healthcare-research/surveys/obamacare-open-enrollment-period
26 Robert Pear. U.S. Announces Further Exemptions for Insurance Enrollment Deadline. (March 26, 2014)
27 How can I get coverage outside of open enrollment?



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