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If you want to buy individual or family health insurance, your chance to sign up for coverage takes place during a certain time of year called open enrollment. Some people can get coverage outside of open enrollment if they have a qualifying life event, such as getting married or having a baby.

Below are a few steps to help you find the health insurance that’s right for you. This information is for people buying health insurance through the Marketplace or getting health coverage through Medicare, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). If you get health insurance through your job, ask your employer about its open enrollment.

1. Compare programs.

Under the Affordable Care Act (also called Obamacare), you can sign up for health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace (Marketplace). The Marketplace is a service where you can shop for and buy affordable private health insurance online, over the phone, or with in-person help. It also provides financial help to people who qualify. Most people can only get Marketplace coverage during the next open enrollment period, which is from November 1, 2016 to January 31, 2017.

Medicare is a government program for people 65 years old or older and some younger people with disabilities. Medicare’s open enrollment is from October 15, 2016 to December 7, 2016. If you want to change Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans, now is the time to do it. You can also drop (stop using) your private plan and go back to Original Medicare.

Medicaid and CHIP are government programs that provide free or low-cost health coverage to people who qualify, including some low-income people, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities. Many states are expanding Medicaid to cover all households below certain incomes. Your children may qualify for CHIP even if you don’t qualify for Medicaid. Some states have different names for their Medicaid and CHIP programs. To learn what the programs are called in your state, go to Medicaid and CHIP do not have open enrollment periods; you can apply for coverage at any time. 

2. Plan to shop.

The Marketplace is for people without health coverageIt can help you get covered if you don’t have health insurance through another source. To learn more, call 1.800.318.2596 or go to

You need to sign up for health insurance during the Marketplace’s open enrollment if:

  • You don't have health insurance through your employer
    or your spouse's employer
  • You don't have government coverage
    (such as Veterans, Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP)
  • You're over age 26 and can no longer be on a parent's health insurance
3. Remember important dates.

This year, the Marketplace’s open enrollment is from November 1, 2016 to January 31, 2017. Remember, most people can only sign up for coverage during this open enrollment period. Below are other important dates to help you get Marketplace coverage:

  • November 1, 2016: Open enrollment starts. This is the first day you can sign up for health coverage for 2017. Coverage can start as soon as
    January 1, 2017.
  • December 15, 2016: This is the last day to enroll in or change your health coverage for it to start January 1, 2017.
  • January 1, 2017: 2017 coverage starts for those who enroll in or change plans by December 15, 2016.
  • January 31, 2017: This is the last day to enroll in or change your 2017 health coverage.  
4. Choose a health plan and provider that are right for you.

Below are a few tips to help you choose a Marketplace plan.

  • Look at the plan you have now and how that plan might change next year.  Review the Annual Notice of Change from your plan. This document will list changes to your plan, such as the cost of premiums and co-pays, and show a comparison of the plan between this year and next.
  • Figure out which plan will best meet your needs. Don't go by premium cost alone. Evaluate each plan's out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance.
  • Look for your doctor. For many people, keeping their doctor is most important when it comes to choosing a health plan. If your doctor is important to you, make sure he or she accepts the plan you want to enroll in.
5. Use available resources.

There are many resources and professionals available to help you get coverage.

These steps will help you find the health insurance that is right for you and your family. Make sure you use the resources listed above to learn more. You can also download a copy of “A Quick Guide to Health Insurance” — a guide to help you better understand health insurance.