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Reform Update: Health plans extend deadline for insurance coverage premiums


By Paul Demko
Posted: January 9, 2014 - 3:30 pm ET
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Friday was supposed to be the deadline for most consumers to pay premiums if they want their insurance coverage to be effective as of Jan. 1. But a number of health plans have extended the payment window to get as many people as possible enrolled.

Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in five states, including Texas and Illinois, will allow payments until Jan. 30. “We've seen a significant amount of payments come through our system,” said spokeswoman Lauren Perlstein Plungas. “It's just to allow people more peace of mind.”

Independence Blue Cross, which operates in Pennsylvania, is now accepting payments as late as Jan. 28. For WellPoint, which is offering products for sale through the exchanges in 14 states, the deadline has been pushed to Jan. 15. Highmark, which does business in Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, has also extended the payment deadline to Jan. 15. Humana customers will have until the end of the month to make their initial payment.

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“We want to make the transition as smooth as possible for consumers,” said Tom Noland, Humana's senior vice president of corporate communications.

America's Health Insurance Plans announced in December that its members would allow payments until Jan. 10.

In some cases, states are taking action to extend the window. On Saturday, Covered California announced that the roughly 400,000 individuals who selected an insurance plan through the exchange would have until Jan. 15 to make a payment. That's nine days beyond the previously announced deadline.

The revised dates are just the latest adjustments in what's been a rocky rollout of the state and federal exchanges. A late surge in enrollments in December, after the federal HealthCare.gov website became more functional, left many individuals with little time to make payments.

The federal government reported that 2.1 million Americans enrolled in plans through the state and federal exchanges by the Dec. 24 deadline for 2014 coverage. But that figure includes everyone who selected a plan. Insurers typically don't count someone as enrolled until they've actually made their first payment. It remains uncertain how many of those people will ultimately complete the process and have coverage that applies retroactively to Jan. 1.

Gerald Kominski, a health policy expert at the University of California at Los Angeles, said the adjustments aren't surprising given the significant changes taking place in the insurance marketplace. “I don't think it's any mystery. It's just a straightforward reaction to the sort of avalanche of applications that came in in December,” he said. “The industry is trying to accommodate this unique set of circumstances.”

Increasing share of individuals shopping for coverage through exchanges

Roughly a quarter of adults potentially eligible to acquire insurance coverage through the state and federal insurance exchanges had sought information about options by the end of December, according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund (PDF). That's up from 17% reported in a similar survey conducted in October. Of those who shopped on the marketplaces, 38% reported that they ended up applying for coverage. But problems continue to plague the exchanges: Nearly 70% of respondents rated their shopping experience as fair or poor.

Nonprofit insurer operating in Iowa and Nebraska tops 35,000 enrollments

CoOpurtunity Health set a modest goal for 2014. The startup nonprofit insurer expected to enroll 12,000 Iowa and Nebraska residents in coverage during its first year of operations, according to a loan application it filed with the federal government. But CoOportunity Health nearly tripled that goal in its first three months of enrollments. In fact, the 35,000 enrollment tally as of Jan. 1 was even higher than the insurer's second-year goal of 31,000 enrollments. Nearly two thirds of the enrollments were from individual customers, and the remainder were through employer groups. CoOportunity Health is among 23 nonprofit health plans established through startup loans from the federal government as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Follow Paul Demko on Twitter: @MHpdemko


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