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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

In Sickness and In Health: The Marriage Special Enrollment Period

Elizabeth Cooper

Emerson Fellow

The rings have been exchanged, the vows uttered, and the definitive rankings of chicken or fish released. With more than 40 percent of domestic weddings taking place in the summer months of June, July, August, and September, wedding season gives enrollment assisters a reason to push the special enrollment period (SEP) for newlyweds. And with the recent Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage in all 50 states, enrollment assisters have new opportunities to forge community partnerships around the marriage SEP.

Special enrollment periods and marriage create the potential to enroll substantial numbers of people

Marriage is often more than a declaration of love; for many, it can also mark a substantial shift in legal and financial benefits. Luckily, the act of marrying is considered a “qualifying life event” that triggers an SEP for the newlyweds. The number of people who can benefit from this is substantial: In 2014, more than 500,000 uninsured adults were estimated to get married between open enrollment periods. And with each new marriage comes another enrollment opportunity. 

Supreme Court affirmation of marriage equality gives same-sex couples a new enrollment option

Before the recent Supreme Court decision regarding marriage equality, same-sex couples were able to enroll in marketplace health coverage and receive financial assistance only if they married in a state that recognized same-sex marriage. Now, same-sex marriage is recognized in all states, so same-sex couples will be afforded the same benefits as all other married couples. 

Couples have 60 days from the time they are legally wed to enroll in marketplace coverage.

What most newlyweds don’t know is that upon becoming legally married, couples have a 60 day SEP to enroll in marketplace coverage. Married couples may apply for premium tax credits and lower out-of-pocket costs for marketplace coverage as long as they intend to file a joint federal tax return in the same year they apply for marketplace coverage. 

Publicizing the marriage SEP and reaching out to people who may qualify 

Enrollment assisters and advocacy groups have the opportunity to reach out to and enroll considerable numbers of people through the marriage SEP. Community partnerships with the wedding industry can help assisters spread the word that coverage is available and changes to health insurance plans can be made as soon as the couple has finished opening up their gifts!

  • Consider the target community and the locations where those planning a wedding or the newly married might be. County offices, courts, faith organizations, wedding venues, and bridal shops are all locations where you’re likely to find consumers eligible for the marriage SEP. 
  • Examine your existing networks and community partners for introductions into these settings and consider building outreach at these locations into your permanent enrollment efforts. Arrange for enrollment assisters to be physically present at the target locations, especially leading up to the summer months (otherwise known as “wedding season”), and ask to leave health insurance resources and brochures for those times when an assister isn’t available. 
Establishing a physical presence is key to crafting continued relationships with organizations and locations that are linked to the marriage SEP population.

Remember, enrollment is a year-round effort, and couples are tying the knot 365 days a year!

Visit our Enrollment Assister Resource Center for resources from Families USA and outside organizations to help with enrollment and outreach efforts for the health insurance marketplaces. 


Have you been successful in your attempts to enroll people into health insurance? Email us with stories or questions: assisters@familiesusa.org.