In the United States, annual enrollment (also known as open enrollment or open season) is a period of time, usually but not always occurring once per year, when employees of companies and organizations may make changes to their elected fringe benefit options, such as health insurance. The term also applies to the annual period during which individuals may buy individual health insurance plans through the online, state-based health insurance exchanges established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Open enrollment is also prominent in Medicare, where almost 50 million enrollees can choose to stay in original Medicare, or join or change plans within the Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D Prescription Drug programs for the coming calendar year. Individuals usually can make changes to their health insurance or fringe benefits only during the open enrollment period or when they have experienced a specific qualifying event.
During this time period, an employer will typically communicate to all eligible employees what options they have for their benefit program. Often the vendors or insurance providers will be present to explain the details of their products. This can be done either with group presentations, "benefit fairs" or meetings one on one with each employee. As travel expenses continue to rise many vendors and insurance providers have turned to using independent "contract enrollers" to do the communication on their behalf.
For example, Health Advocate, Inc., a large health advocacy company that references employee benefit plans from over 6,000 employers, has a large push to update their system leading up to open enrollment, typically January 1 of each year. The process is very involved and takes several months as each employer plan may be very different.
Open season is a prominent feature of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program during which some 3 million Federal civilian employees and retirees may choose among several dozen health insurance plans for the coming year. Open season is scheduled in the fall each year, and plan enrollment decisions take effect in the following calendar year.
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