Once a year, we have an insurance ad fest.  It’s during open enrollment when the Marketplace is open for selecting new plans or switching to ones with better coverage or lower prices.  Television, magazines, and newspapers love open enrollment as it drives a frenzy of ads.

Some of these ads are misleading.  Read the fine print before you enroll.  Some promise add-on features such as rides to the doctor and meals while you are ill.  Keep in mind that these are usually extra expenses on top of the basic policy.  Price it out and make your own decisions.

You’ll also see ads for zero cost or cash-back policies.  These are often only available in certain areas and with high-deductible or co-pay policies, which means that they may pay a smaller portion of your bills.

Open enrollment is generally part of November and December.  Plans are to open it in October in the future.  The dates may vary from year to year, and it’s a deadline that you don’t want to miss.  During open enrollment, you can select a new plan, switch plans, or apply for subsidies.

Some, but not all, plans auto-renew.  That means, once you enroll, your plan may be renewed (usually at a new rate) every year.  It’s still a good idea to check rates and coverage yearly during open enrollment as there might be better deals available or insurance plans more suited to your situation.  Of course, if your plan doesn’t auto-renew, you need to pick a new plan yourself.

Several situations may qualify you for a special enrollment period.  Check the healthcare.gov site for the rules as the government is sometimes picky, but special enrollment gives you the ability to review your coverage if your situation changes during the year.  Changes can include having a baby or adopting a child, getting married, losing other health insurance (but not because you quit it or didn’t pay), moving, becoming a citizen, or leaving incarceration.

If you miss open enrollment and don’t qualify for special enrollment, you might still be able to buy private unsubsidized health insurance from an agent outside the marketplace.  Medicaid and CHIP enrollment is open all of the time.