Ask Kim


Buying Health Insurance in the Off Season

Kimberly Lankford

Moving and other “life changes” make you eligible to buy a new policy, even when open enrollment is closed.



I’m leaving my job in a few months and moving to New York. Can I get new health insurance even though open enrollment is over?

SEE ALSO: Signing Up for Health Insurance Outside of Open Enrollment

Yes. Even though open enrollment for individual health insurance is closed until November 15, you can buy a new policy now (either on a state exchange or directly from an insurer or agent) if you move or experience certain other “life changes,” including getting married or divorced, having or adopting a baby, and losing other health insurance. You generally have 60 days from the date of the event to buy a new policy. See Apply with a Special Enrollment Period for more information.

The rules for buying a new policy when you move vary by state. For example, you can buy a policy from the New York State of Health (New York’s health insurance exchange) outside of open enrollment if you permanently move to New York State or if you permanently move from one county to another within the state. You have 60 days from the date of your move to select a health plan. See the New York State of Health’s FAQs on Special Enrollment Periods for details.

Losing health insurance when you leave your job also makes you eligible for a special enrollment period in any state -- even if you could extend your current policy through COBRA -- as long as you haven’t signed up for COBRA yet. (COBRA is the federal law that requires insurers with 20 or more employees to let you keep your employer coverage for up to 18 months after you leave your job. It’s often a better deal to look for coverage on your own rather than getting COBRA because you must pay the full cost of COBRA coverage yourself.) Keep in mind that if you change plans in the middle of the year, your deductible and out-of-pocket limit will reset, and medical costs you paid for under your old plan won’t count toward the new plan’s limits.

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Because you’re leaving your job, you’ll need to estimate what your income will be for the rest of the year and add that to the income you’ve already earned in 2014, to see whether you’re eligible for a subsidy (you qualify if your income is less than 400% of the federal poverty level -- $46,680 if you’re single or $62,920 for a couple). Notify the exchange if your income ends up being lower than your estimate (so you can get a bigger subsidy) or if it’s higher than you anticipated (so you don’t have to pay some of it back when you file your tax return in the spring). See Beware Pitfalls of Health Care Subsidy for more information about subsidy surprises.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.



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