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It's open enrollment time. As you likely know, open enrollment is that time of year when you can shop and switch plans.

This year, for coverage in 2019 and beyond, open enrollment will begin on November 1st and ends on December 15th. It's a quick six weeks. While this is the time when you can legally and easily switch, please note that there are two caveats to this general rule, that is, there are two times when you can still buy healthcare insurance, even if it is not the open enrollment period:

The first is that you can buy insurance anytime if you have a "qualifying event." What is that? Example: My daughter just moved back to the States after having spent a year abroad in Spain teaching. She came home over the summer and although it wasn't the open enrollment period, we were nevertheless able to get her coverage.

So, what is a qualifying event? Examples include:

  • Birth of a child (the child can be added to the policy)
  • Marriage (a spouse can be added)
  • Divorce from the covered employee
  • The end of employment and coverage
  • You graduate, and your school healthcare expires
  • Your COBRA runs out

Essentially, qualifying events are things that would necessitate getting new/different health insurance. But, what you should also see from that broad generalization, is that simply being unhappy with your coverage or just wanting to change does not pass muster as a "qualifying event."

The other thing to understand is that small business coverage (as opposed to individual coverage) is available all year, not just during open enrollment.

Why you should probably buy group coverage.

According to a report from eHealth, small business health insurance is 11% less expensive on average than individually-purchased health insurance. Indeed, for a variety of reasons, I would suggest that, if you own a small business, it would behoove you to strongly consider buying small group health coverage as an alternative to buying solo care on a healthcare marketplace.

Here's why: As a business, you can deduct from your business taxes the cost of your group monthly premiums. So, not only is this a significant deduction, but you may also be eligible for special tax credits too. (And, notably, contributions your employees make toward their health insurance premiums are often paid with pre-tax dollars, thus creating savings for them as well.)

To qualify for small business health insurance, you must have at least one w-2 employee that works at least 30 hours a week and who is not a spouse.

And finally, let's not forget that beyond the dollars and sense, offering group health insurance helps foster a positive culture and happy employees.

Finding the right insurance.

So, where do you find the right plan for you or your business? Three places:

  1. An insurance agent or broker. They know their stuff, they offer personal attention, they will be there for years, and maybe just as importantly, it won't cost you a cent.
  2. Healthcare exchanges. To purchase individual insurance, you can also go to your state's healthcare marketplace (if it has one), or if not, head over to Healthcare.gov.
  3. To buy coverage for your small business (up to 50 employees) you should start at the Affordable Healthcare Act's Healthcare.gov site for small business coverage, called SHOP (Small business Healthcare Options Program.)

Keeping it affordable.

Of course, shopping different plans is the first way to keep a check on your healthcare expenses, but beyond that, consider options like higher deductibles and health savings accounts. Your agent or broker can really help with this.

The bottom line is that with open enrollment upon us, it would be wise to check out your options see what sort of plans and costs savings you might be eligible for.

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