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Elizabeth Davis

You Can't Sign Up for Obamacare Whenever You Want

By September 26, 2013

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What is open enrollment?

Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges open for business in just a few days. If you want to sign up for health insurance using your state's health insurance exchange, you'll have to do it during open enrollment. The first ever open enrollment for Obamacare begins October 1, 2013 and ends March 31, 2014.

Once open enrollment ends, you won't be able to sign up on the exchanges until the next open enrollment period. So, you don't have to rush right out this October 1 and sign up for health insurance. But, if you procrastinate too long and miss the March 31, 2014 deadline, you won't have another chance until the next Obamacare open enrollment period begins on October 15, 2014.

Learn more about what open enrollment is, how it works, and why you can't sign up for health insurance whenever you want in, "What Is Open Enrollment?"


Image Ryan McVay/Getty Images

September 28, 2013 at 2:45 am
(1) Stuart says:

Please help me understand this.

Is the due date for individuals January 2014 or March 2014?

September 28, 2013 at 10:03 pm
(2) healthinsurance says:

Hi Stuart,

The Affordable Care Act says everyone has to have health insurance by January 1, 2014 or face a tax penalty.

You can start signing up for health insurance through the exchanges on October 1, 2013. This initial open enrollment period for the exchanges runs through March 31, 2014. After March 31, 2014, you won’t have another open enrollment period until November, 2014. So, if you don’t buy health insurance by March 31, 2014, you’ll have to wait until November, 2014 to have another chance.

If you buy health insurance on your state’s health insurance exchange before December 15, 2013, that coverage will take effect on January 1, 2014. If you buy health insurance after December 15, 2013, you won’t meet the January 1, 2014 deadline because your coverage won’t be in place yet.

Here are some examples:
If you buy on December 14, 2013, coverage starts January 1, 2014.
Buy on December 16, 2013; coverage starts February 1, 2014.
Buy on January 14, 2014; coverage starts February 1, 2014.
Buy on January 16, 2014; coverage starts March 1, 2014.
Buy on March 1, 2014; coverage starts April 1, 2014.
Buy on March 31, 2014; coverage starts May 1, 2014.

Try to buy on April 1, 2014 and you won’t be able to because open enrollment will be over. Your next opportunity won’t come until the annual open enrollment period beginning in November, 2014. If you buy coverage during that annual open enrollment period, it will take effect January 1, 2015.

Another technical detail to note: Although the law says you must have health insurance starting January 1, 2014 or face a fine, the law also provides an exemption for being uninsured for brief periods of less than 3 months without facing a penalty.

This means that, even though you’re supposed to have insurance by January 1, 2014, you wouldn’t technically face a fine if you manage to get coverage before April 1, 2014 and keep it for the rest of the year.

If, however, you procrastinate and don’t sign up for insurance until the very last day of open enrollment, March 31, 2014, your insurance coverage won’t start until May 1, 2014. This means you will have been uninsured for four months of 2014, so you won’t be eligible for that “brief period of less than three months” exemption. You may face a tax penalty.

October 2, 2013 at 10:31 am
(3) Stuart says:

Oh, Elizabeth! I forgot to thank you for your incredibly helpful response. Thank you!

October 2, 2013 at 11:08 am
(4) healthinsurance says:

You’re more than welcome. I appreciate your questions/comments. They help me figure out what people need to know, what I should write more about, and what knowledge gaps need to be filled in. So, thanks for asking!

December 10, 2013 at 4:36 am
(5) google.com says:

Greetings from Idaho! I’m bored to tears at work so I decided to browse your site
on my iphone during lunch break. I love the info you present here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home.
I’m amazed at how quick your blog loaded on my mobile ..
I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, excellent blog!

January 15, 2014 at 10:09 pm
(6) Lynda says:

My son turns 26 in May 2014 and ages out of my policy through my employer. Does he have to sign up now or can he wait til early April some to sign up?

January 18, 2014 at 2:55 pm
(7) healthinsurance says:

Hi Lynda,
You don’t have to sign up now. He’ll be eligible for a special enrollment period on your state’s health insurance exchange. Since he’s losing his existing health plan due to losing his dependent eligibility, your exchange should provide him a 30-60 day special enrollment period to enroll in health insurance on the exchange. If his income is modest, he may even be eligible for a health insurance subsidy to help him pay the monthly premiums.

February 11, 2014 at 12:53 pm
(8) Jonah says:

Regarding your reply to Lynda – this is the first and only place I’ve seen this obviously important question addressed! May I ask where on the Obamacare website (or anywhere, for that matter) this information exists?? Can I be sure that when my daughter turns 26 in August she’ll have 30-60 days to sign up? It would be nice to see it in writing…

Thank you!

February 17, 2014 at 7:42 pm
(9) healthinsurance says:

Hi Jonah,

You can find this info on the HealthCare.gov site at this link:

You can also learn what options your daughter will have next August when she turns 26 in this article:

Hope that helps, and thanks for being an engaged father who’s looking out for his daughter.


March 13, 2014 at 12:34 pm
(10) Erin says:

What if a person loses their job (a job that provides their family’s insurance) during a time that’s not “open enrollment”. Will they be able to pick up the new affordable health care, or will they have to wait until open enrollment? What choices do they have in the mean time to keep insurance coverage and avoid paying the penalty?

March 18, 2014 at 7:09 pm
(11) healthinsurance says:

Hi Erin,
When you lose your job and your job-based health insurance, you’ll be eligible for a special enrollment period on your state’s Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange. Learn more about how this works in “<a href=”http://healthinsurance.about.com/od/healthinsurancetermss/g/What-Is-A-Special-Enrollment-Period.htm”>What Is a Special Enrollment Period?</a>”

You may also be eligible to continue your current health plan using COBRA continuation coverage. Learn more in “<a href=”http://healthinsurance.about.com/od/jobbasedcoverage/fl/Am-I-Eligible-For-COBRA-Health-Insurance.htm”>Am I Eligible for COBRA?</a>”

Be aware that the special enrollment period only lasts for a limited time, usually 30-60 days. If you don’t enroll in a health plan with your health insurance exchange before then, you’ll have to wait until the next open enrollment period.

Similarly, you have a limited time during which to sign up for COBRA. If you don’t sign up by the deadline, you don’t get another chance.

March 25, 2014 at 9:48 am
(12) Teacher says:

All of your posts are so helpful. I guess I really just need some guidance. My husband is an uninsured farmer. I am an insured teacher through my district. I want to add him to my policy, but can not do that until this summer due to enrollment. What would my penalty be like for waiting that far past the dreaded March 31st deadline?

Thank you

April 7, 2014 at 9:19 pm
(13) healthinsurance says:

Hi Teacher,
The penalty is calculated by the month, so you won’t be penalized for the entire year if your husband gets health insurance coverage part way through the year. You’ll just be penalized for the months he was uncovered. You’re allowed a grace period of less than 3 months during which you won’t be penalized if you’re uninsured. However, if you husband isn’t going to get coverage until summer, he’ll be uninsured for more than 3 months, so he’ll owe a penalty for each of the months he was uninsured in 2014.

For 2014, the penalty is 1% of your income or $95, whichever is more. But remember, the penalty is prorated if you have insurance for part of the year. If he’s uninsured for 7 months and covered for 5 months, the penalty will be 7/12 of the yearly penalty. Another thing in your favor, you don’t have to count your entire income when calculating the 1% penalty. You subtract the filing threshold first, which is in the neighborhood of about $10,000 depending on your family size. You only calculate the penalty on the money you earned above and beyond the filing threshold. (The filing threshold is the amount of income below which you’re not obligated to file taxes and above which you have to file taxes.)

Another break is that the penalty tops out at the national average cost for a bronze-tier health insurance plan. In other words, it will probably be less expensive to pay the penalty than to pay premiums…this year. Next year the penalty jumps to 2% of your income. In 2016, it jumps to 2.5% of your income.

Hope that helps,

March 31, 2014 at 9:43 am
(14) Claire says:


I’m a graduate student- I have (excellent) insurance through my school until August 2014. Can I sign up for Obama Care in August, or will I be uninsured between August and October? Would I be fined for not having insurance for those 2 months?

Thank you!

April 7, 2014 at 9:09 pm
(15) healthinsurance says:

Hi Claire,
Let’s say you have health insurance that covers all of the essential health benefits right now. If you lose that health insurance, you’ll most likely be eligible for a special enrollment period on your state’s health insurance exchange. The special enrollment period is only active for a limited time, usually 30-60 days from the event that caused you to lose your prior coverage. It will allow you to sign up for an Obamacare plan even though it’s not open enrollment.

If you choose not to use your special enrollment and thus are uncovered for 2 months, you won’t have to pay the tax penalty for being uninsured as long as those are the only two months you were uninsured in that calendar year. The Affordable Care Act allows you to be uninsured for a single period of less than 3 months in any year without having to pay the penalty. If you’re uninsured for 3 or more months, you’ll be penalized. If you have two different episodes of being uninsured in a single year, you’ll be penalized for the second one even if the two episodes together add up to less than three months.

However, you get a bit of a break because the government considers you to have health insurance in any month when you’re covered for even a single day. So, for example, if you lose your coverage February 15th and get new coverage on March 25th, you’re actually given credit for having health insurance for both the month of February and the month of March since you were insured for at least a day during each of those months.

Hope that helps.

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