The new extension adds to a series of deadline delays by
government and the insurance industry to compensate for technical
failures and errors plaguing the enrollment process under President
Barack Obama's healthcare law.
The Obama administration and insurers have been working to prevent
cases where problems in setting up new policies meant a consumer who
thought they had insurance would not have benefits when they needed
them. Republican opponents of the law have seized on its troubled
rollout as a top issue for 2014 congressional elections.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois
and three more BCBS plans that are part of the privately held Health
Care Service Corp chain have moved the first payment deadline to
January 30 from January 10. All of the plans are sold through the
federal website HealthCare.gov, which had a December 24 deadline for
customers to enroll and be guaranteed coverage by January 1 in 36
Others, including Aetna Inc, said they were still considering this
Friday to be the payment deadline.
Technical problems prevented consumer access to HealthCare.gov in
the first two months following its launch on October 1. An emergency
effort to fix the site allowed hundreds of thousands of people to
use it daily by early December, and the Obama administration urged
insurers to give consumers leeway to sort through any remaining
errors. America's Health Insurance Plans, a top industry trade and
lobbying group, recommended a first payment deadline of January 10.
By late December, more than 2 million people nationwide had picked
new private insurance plans under Obamacare, but the number included
consumers who have yet to pay their first premium and therefore are
not truly enrolled.
Insurers say they have been communicating to customers through
social media, targeted emails and telephone calls to let them know
they need to pay.
"We have been receiving a significant volume of payments and
continue to assist members in activating their coverage. But some
signed up close to the deadline, so we are extending the payment
deadline to give customers extra time to pay their first month's
premium," Lauren Perlstein Plungas, a spokeswoman for Health Care
Service Corp, said in a statement.
[to top of second column]
Independence Blue Cross Blue Shield, based in Philadelphia, is also
moving its time frame to pay, until January 28, a spokeswoman said.
Independence is selling its plans for Pennsylvania on
WellPoint Inc, which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield in 14 states
and is known for its Anthem and Empire brands, said that its first
payment deadline is now January 15. WellPoint is selling plans on
HealthCare.gov and on some of the 14 exchanges run by states. It had
previously set a January 10 deadline.
The state-run Covered California exchange announced this past
weekend that it was moving the payment date for insurance plans to
January 15 from a previous deadline of January 6, saying that its
extension was aimed at easing the rush by consumers to pay their
In Connecticut, the three insurers selling Obamacare plans have
established three different deadlines for January 1 coverage:
January 10, 15 and 17, the head of the state's Access Health
exchange Kevin Counihan said on Wednesday. In addition, the deadline
for February 1 coverage is also January 15.
"This is all just part of everyone's scrambling to meet some of the
administrative complexities of implementation and enrollment,"
Counihan said. "Part of the challenge is that there are so many
dates out there that consumers have the risk of being confused."
(Reporting by Caroline Humer; editing by
Michele Gershberg, Stephen Powell and Richard Chang)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.