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Insurers allow more time to pay under health law

Posted December 18, 2013

— Consumers anxious over tight insurance deadlines and lingering computer problems during the holidays will get extra time to pay their premiums under President Barack Obama's health care law, insurers announced Wednesday.

The board of the industry's biggest trade group – America's Health Insurance Plans – said consumers who select a plan by Dec. 23 will now have until Jan. 10 to pay their first month's premium. That's 10 extra days beyond a New Year's Eve deadline set by the government.

Both Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas, the only two insurers to offer plans in North Carolina through the federal online marketplace, said they would abide by the new deadline.

The voluntary move comes as insurers and the try to head off anticipated problems around the first of the year, when new coverage options for the uninsured take effect under Obama's law, and when several million people whose existing policies were canceled must switch to new plans.

Expect even bigger political trouble for the president if consumers who made a good-faith effort to get covered through the government's balky website show up at the pharmacy and can't get prescriptions filled, or if they turn up in the emergency room and there's no record that they are enrolled. The stakes would be higher this time because someone's health could be jeopardized.

The administration applauded the industry decision. It will "ultimately make it easier for consumers to enroll" through the new online insurance markets, said Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters. The federal HealthCare.gov website is now working reasonably well, but insurers still report accuracy problems with enrollment information the government is sending about their new customers.

Karen Ignagni, CEO of the industry group, said the decision was taken "to give consumers greater peace of mind about their health care coverage." AHIP represents about 95 percent of the industry, including the major national carriers and nearly all the BlueCross BlueShield plans.

There may be a few insurers who do not follow the group's lead, so consumers are advised to check with their carrier. Consumers must pay their first month's premium on time for coverage to take effect.

The move burnishes the industry's image and has no real downside, said Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalare Health, a market analysis firm. "It's useful for the consumer and not a problem for the plans," he said.

Insurers will still get paid for January. "They can book the revenue, and they don't need to worry about the cash flow," Mendelson said.

But the announcement does more than grant extra time. It also reduces the risk that consumers switching plans could suffer an interruption in coverage because of the technology woes encountered by the federal sign-up system, and some state-run websites.

That's particularly important for at least 4 million people whose existing individual plans were canceled because they did not meet standards under Obama's law. Disruptions in coverage for those consumers could have major political consequences for Obama and beleaguered HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Back in 2009, Obama had promised that people who liked their insurance would be able to keep it under his health overhaul plan. But that guarantee was shredded by the wave of cancellation notices, which crested right around the same time that HealthCare.gov was refusing to function for millions of potential customers. Obama's poll ratings took a nosedive.

Under the industry announcement, consumers still must select a plan by Dec. 23 — next Monday.

But instead of having to pay their first month's premium by New Year's Eve, they now have until Jan. 10. That would let them have coverage retroactive to Jan. 1. Patients who get a pharmacy or medical bill during that period can later submit it to the insurance company for payment.

Insurers have complained that a significant number of the enrollments they have gotten from HealthCare.gov have problems that could prevent a consumer from getting covered on Jan. 1. That includes missing or incomplete information, duplicative entries and garble. The administration says its technical experts are aggressively tackling the problems, and that errors have been cut dramatically. But insurers say useless or corrupted files are still getting through. Government and industry are working together to clean up the records.

Without the extra time granted Wednesday, a consumer who paid in early January would have had to wait until Feb. 1 for coverage.

13 Comments

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  • junkmail5 Dec 18, 7:53 p.m.

    Uh-huh--all day long these companies are going to pass out free health care -Joseph Lawrence

    You're making less and less sense.

    The healthcare isn't free. These are private insurance companies, and they're being paid for the insurance.

    The only change here is the billing date was pushed back 10 days.

    Something THEY did voluntarily.

  • josephlawrence43 Dec 18, 7:27 p.m.

    Uh-huh--all day long these companies are going to pass out free health care on the strength of the promises of Obama and his government??? Pray tell--what promises has he kept in the past 5 1/2 years? How many lies has he told.?? Insurance companies ain't stupid--and they are not about to allow Obama and his koolaid besotted minions to drive them into the ground. Watch and wait..

  • soapbox Dec 18, 7:26 p.m.

    "Well, after being threatened by Obama and his White House, I guess the companies are having to bite the bullet and extend coverage to those who haven't paid yet." - josephlawrence

    I think you're commenting on the wrong forum. You obviously didn't read the same story I did. Must have been one on Faux News.

    From WRAL: "The VOLUNTARY move comes as insurers and the try to head off anticipated problems around the first of the year..."

    "Karen Ignagni, CEO of the industry group, said the decision was taken 'to give consumers greater peace of mind about their health care coverage.'"

    "The move burnishes the industry's image and has no real downside, said Dan Mendelson, CEO of Avalare Health..."

    "...that mean the first claim that comes in from someone who has not paid their premiums will not be processed?" - jl

    "...they now have until Jan. 10. That would let them have coverage retroactive to Jan. 1."

    It's all there in black & white, if you can be bothered to read it before you post.

  • junkmail5 Dec 18, 7:07 p.m.

    Could that mean that the first claim that comes in from someone who has not paid their premiums will not be processed simply because they haven't paid the premium?-josephlawrence4

    No, it couldn't.

    You can tell based on what the story, which you apparently didn't read, discusses that.

    "Patients who get a pharmacy or medical bill during that period can later submit it to the insurance company for payment"

  • josephlawrence43 Dec 18, 7:00 p.m.

    Well, after being threatened by Obama and his White House, I guess the companies are having to bite the bullet and extend coverage to those who haven't paid yet. Could that mean that the first claim that comes in from someone who has not paid their premiums will not be processed simply because they haven't paid the premium? In other words--no premium money--no legitimate claim on the policy..

  • junkmail5 Dec 18, 6:34 p.m.

    As of this time last month, 1,662 North Carolinian's signed up for this train wreck. Doesn't look like there is much enthusiasm for it-Eightball

    Uh... the website still wasn't working then.

    More people signed up in the first 2 days of THIS month than the -entire- first month since they got it working properly.

    Somehow, I don't believe what replaces it will be $2500.00 a year less-Eightball

    Why would it be? The $2500 promise was from 2008, about a completely DIFFERENT plan... (a universal coverage one that congress did not pass)

    Seriously though, nobody pays a penalty as long as they have insurance by March 31 2014... given Americans tendency to wait for the last minute, plus the website issues the first 2 months, it'll be at least a few months before we have actual useful data on how popular the exchanges actually are and who is using them.

    But feel free to keep doing a chicken little routine until then!

  • Eightball Dec 18, 5:52 p.m.

    As of this time last month, 1,662 North Carolinian's signed up for this train wreck. Doesn't look like there is much enthusiasm for it, huh?...I liked my insurance, but have recently found out I DONT get to keep it. Somehow, I don't believe what replaces it will be $2500.00 a year less. The ONLY thing I'm sure of is that I don't believe a single word that comes out of Obama's mouth.

  • PanthersFan45 Dec 18, 5:25 p.m.

    "But insurers say useless or corrupted files are still getting through. Government and industry are working together to clean up the records."

    Its still a debacle in progress. It may be improved from from where it was a month ago but the "young & hip" Obama was hoping to see sign up isn't happening ... the negative PR of a problem website continues.

  • junkmail5 Dec 18, 4:19 p.m.

    Just got my family quote PER month- $1659. Thanks again Obama voters
    sctech

    Unless you're making over $96,000 a year a family of 4 would be getting a subsidy to help pay for that.

  • sctech Dec 18, 3:57 p.m.

    Just got my family quote PER month- $1659. Thanks again Obama voters

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