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Can I buy health insurance outside of the Marketplace that meets all ACA standards?

Yes.  Many insurers that offer policies through the Marketplace also offer identical policies outside of the Marketplace, in the individual health insurance market.  These ACA-compliant policies also will meet all ACA standards.  They will cover essential health benefits; and they won’t turn you down, charge you more, or limit coverage based on your pre-existing condition.  In addition, ACA-compliant policies will only be offered during Open Enrollment, or at other times during the year, only to people who are eligible for a special enrollment period (SEP).

Sometimes people prefer to buy outside of the Marketplace, for example, when they are sure they won’t qualify for financial assistance. However, many other policies that are not ACA-compliant are also for sale outside of the Marketplace, and this can make comparison-shopping more complicated.

Some signs that a health policy is not ACA-compliant include:

  • The application asks questions about your health status or health history
  • The policy doesn’t cover essential benefits, such as maternity care or prescription drugs
  • The policy has annual or lifetime dollar caps on covered benefits
  • The policy is offered for sale outside of Open Enrollment to people regardless of whether they’re eligible for an SEP, for example, because they recently lost other coverage

Plans that are not ACA-compliant, including short-term health insurance, may have lower premiums because they can exclude people with pre-existing conditions and offer more limited benefits.

If you are shopping outside of the Marketplace and you want an ACA-compliant policy, be sure to specify that to the insurer or broker you’re working with.

Finally, even if you think you won’t qualify for financial assistance, it still might be worthwhile to shop for coverage on the Marketplace.  All policies offered through the Marketplace will meet ACA standards; no other non-compliant products are sold there.   In addition, if you are not eligible for financial assistance now, but your circumstances change later during the year (for example, your income declines), you can begin receiving financial assistance right away if you are already covered under a Marketplace plan.  Or, when you file your tax return at year-end you can claim a premium tax credit to have some of the premium you paid for the Marketplace plan refunded to you.  However, if you bought an ACA-compliant policy outside of the Marketplace, and then you become eligible for financial assistance mid-year, you may have to wait until the next Open Enrollment to switch to a Marketplace plan and get financial assistance.

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