What is Online Open Enrollment?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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Online open enrollment can refer to a number of different things, but often has to do with enrolling in benefit packages as might be offered by an employer or a government agency/service such as Medicare. The term, open, makes this type of enrollment very different than simply online enrollment. Online enrollment could occur at any time, but online open enrollment tends to mean a set period of time in which all people belonging to a place of employment or government agency must take some action.

For example, the US health program Medicare has online open enrollment periods for some parts of its program. Each year people can change things like the Medicare Advantage Plan, if they have one, or the group that administers Medicare Part D, prescription drug coverage. Open enrollment takes place at slightly different times for each of these, so it is important to stay abreast of time periods allowed. If no changes are made coverage tends to go on as it has previously.


In the past when most businesses offered insurance or other benefits to employees, workers filled out forms on what insurance or other they wanted and submitted this information to human resources. A growing number of companies, especially with high numbers of employees, now have online open enrollment periods where workers can make changes. They might add or drop coverage for a spouse or dependent, increase life insurance amounts, elect different amounts to be withdrawn for a health savings account or 401k, choose new health plans if they are offered, and many other things.

Unlike Medicare, if an employee doesn’t fill out this information, they may have no coverage when the new year or new fiscal period begins. It is highly important that employees understand online open enrollment deadlines. Since some employees may not have access to a computer, it is equally vital that human resource departments provide online access or paper copies of all documents.

Sometimes online open enrollment refers to registration at colleges. Some universities allow people to register by class or unit standing. Once this time passes, an open enrollment period begins, for those who missed their earlier chance to register and for incoming students. This registration period is sometimes completed online.

Others must wait in line at the college, trying to recreate their schedule every few minutes as more classes close, a harrowing experience. Certainly, the online method is more convenient. There is usually a total enrollment period for college, though sometimes colleges allow students of any standing to add or drop classes several weeks into the new semester or quarter.


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