The health insurance system in the United States has undergone a lot of changes in recent years and will continue to change year by year as the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) evolves. The changes can be hard to keep up with, but knowing how the insurance environment in the United States affects you is incredibly important. If you are navigating the health insurance marketplace this year, here are a few things to know about qualifying life events.

Under the Affordable Care Act, a federal insurance marketplace has been opened for government-approved health insurance companies to offer health care policies to individuals. Health care is now government mandated, which means people who are uninsured will pay a penalty for not having health insurance during the year.

In years past, there was an open enrollment period for people who wanted to purchase their own personal or family health insurance through the marketplace. This open enrollment period allowed people to compare health care plans they qualified for and pick the one that works best for them. This year, however, the annual open enrollment period has been shortened to just six weeks. You can register for health insurance in 2018 through the marketplace between November 1, 2017, and December 15, 2017.

Qualifying life events

If you are unable to register during this period, there are qualifying life events that will allow you to get health insurance at different times throughout the year. These qualifying life events include changes to your family, if you’ve recently moved, or if you’ve lost your health insurance because of job-related circumstances.

There are many different qualifying life events that allow you to apply for health insurance using the federal health insurance marketplace apart from the open enrollment period. Some simple qualifying life events include turning 26, when your parents’ insurance no longer covers you as a dependent. If you turn 26 anytime during the year, you can apply on the federal health care website to see what health insurance plans you qualify for based on your location and income.

You may lose your health insurance coverage in other ways. If you’ve quit or lost your job, you will also lose insurance coverage from that employer. If you’ve recently left university, you may no longer be covered under a student health plan that the university offered. Additionally, your previous health insurance plan may have expired, and you may be looking to pick a new health insurance plan from the federal marketplace.

Another qualifying life event is losing your eligibility for government-sponsored health insurance coverage from Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP. When you lose coverage from these sources, you can enroll in the health insurance marketplace to see what policies you qualify for in addition to potentially receiving tax credits or discounts on your health insurance.

Changes in your household can also be a qualifying life event. If you’ve recently gotten married, divorced, or had a child, you can enroll in the health insurance marketplace. You could enroll if there has been a death in your family or if you have moved locations (this is a qualifying life event if you have changed zip codes or moved to a new county).

Students that have moved to a university from elsewhere or have recently returned home can qualify for federal health insurance, too. Moving, even temporarily, could allow you to enroll in the health insurance marketplace if you are looking for a new insurance policy. This includes seasonal workers who work in a different location than they permanently live.

Other qualifying events include changes in your income, which can affect the health insurance coverage you qualify for if you are a member of a federally recognized Native American tribe, if you have recently become a US citizen, or if you have recently left jail or prison.

If you have participated in a program like AmeriCorps and have recently started or ended your service with that program, you can enroll anytime during the year as this is a qualifying life event.

See if you qualify

If you think you have had a qualifying life event and want to enroll in the federal health insurance marketplace, make sure to fill out an application online for more information. If you think you have a qualifying life event, but it isn’t showing up on the website, call a health care representative to help answer any questions you may have.

Don’t let the shorter open enrollment period catch you by surprise! Use your qualifying life event to make your life easier when it comes to obtaining the right health insurance for you and your family.