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Know the Key Dates for Health Care Reform

Updated for Tax Year 2021 / September 24, 2021 11:54 AM


The Affordable Care Act (ACA) open enrollment periods vary from year-to-year, but are expected to continue to be late in fall to early winter. Being aware of health care reform key dates can mean avoiding tax penalties for remaining uninsured.

For information on the third coronavirus relief package, please visit our “American Rescue Plan: What Does it Mean for You and a Third Stimulus Check” blog post.


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Open enrollment for 2021

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) open enrollment period to sign up for coverage that starts on January 1, 2021 would normally run from November 1, 2020 through December 15, 2020. However, due to the coronavirus emergency, the enrollment period has been extended through August 15, 2021.

Open enrollment for 2022:

  • December 15 is typically the last day to sign up for coverage that begins January 1 of the following year.
  • January 15 is typically the last day to sign up for coverage that begins February 1 of the following year.
  • If you don't enroll in a health insurance plan by January 31, you typically will not be able to enroll in a plan for the following year unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

Contributions to Flexible Spending Accounts

The ACA introduced an annual contribution cap limit of $2,500 for Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA). Contributing to an FSA through your employer's plan allows you to divert pre-tax income, resulting in lower taxable income for a tax year. Of course, you must use the money you withdraw from your FSA only for qualified health-related expenses to maintain its tax advantaged treatment. This amount is adjusted for inflation with a limit of $2,750 for 2020, 2021, and 2022.

Qualifying life events

You can bypass date requirements for health care reform open enrollment periods if you experience a life event leading to a change in health care coverage.

These life events can include:

  • Losing health care coverage, such as through a change of employment status
  • Changes to your marital status
  • The birth of a child
  • If you’re covered under your parents' plan but reach your 26th birthday

Changes to income may alter your eligibility for health coverage subsidies for existing qualified coverage. New U.S. citizens are also eligible for enrollment at any time under qualifying life event provisions. You can apply for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program at any time through a year.

Open enrollment for future years

Future open enrollment periods are expected to continue to be late in fall to early winter. Although the requirement to have health insurance remains, there is no longer a penalty for not having coverage. Penalties for remaining uninsured were either a flat fee per person in a household or a percentage of household earnings, whichever is highest.

  • These penalties remained in affect through 2018 and were no longer assessed beginning in 2019.
  • The penalty rates increased each year until 2016, after which penalties have been indexed with inflation.

If penalties were not paid with your tax return, they could be withheld from tax refunds in the current year or, if a taxpayer had a balance owing, from refunds in future years.

  • Interest is charged on unpaid penalties.
  • Unlike other tax amounts owing, the IRS can't impose liens or other criminal penalties for failure to pay these penalties.

Not sure if you are exempt from the requirement to purchase health insurance? See "Are You Exempt From Health Care Coverage?".

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