You can’t wait until you’re sick to buy health insurance, Baker Institute expert says


David Ruth

Jeff Falk

You can’t wait until you’re sick to buy health insurance, Baker Institute expert says

HOUSTON – (Aug. 22, 2013) – Americans will soon be able to buy health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges. But they shouldn’t assume they can wait until they’re sick to buy insurance, according to a health care expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Elena Marks, the Baker Institute’s scholar in health policy, said the exchanges have limited enrollment periods each year, and people who do not buy insurance during those periods will have to wait until the next year to buy coverage. “For the first year, 2014, people will be able to enroll from Oct. 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014,” she said. “Thereafter, enrollment will only be open from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 of each year, with coverage effective Jan. 1 of the following year.”

Marks said that coverage isn’t effective immediately upon purchase. “Even during the initial open enrollment period, applicants will wait two weeks to three months before newly purchased insurance kicks in; in subsequent years, the minimum wait is longer,” she said. “If you have an accident or acute illness, coverage that kicks in weeks later is not much help. And if you develop cancer or a chronic condition, coverage next year is small consolation.”

Marks is chair of the board of directors of Community Health Choice, a nonprofit organization serving more than 200,000 members. She is an attorney with a master’s degree in public health and currently works as a consultant to the health care industry. From 2004 through 2009, Marks served as the director of health and environmental policy for the city of Houston.


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Founded in 1993, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston ranks among the top 20 university-affiliated think tanks globally and top 30 think tanks in the United States. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows and Rice University scholars. Learn more about the institute at or on the institute’s blog,

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.