More Obamacare Deadlines Extended

Administration looks to avoid having fewer people with insurance in 2014 than before the law's troubled implementation

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Rod Lamkey / Getty Images

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, December 11, 2013, in Washington, DC.

Updated 7:14 p.m.

In a sign of how seriously website enrollment problems have hampered implementation of the new health care reform law, federal officials announced a raft of December deadline extensions Thursday, just weeks before new coverage under the law is set to begin.

“The steps we’re taking today will help ensure that Americans seeking quality, affordable health coverage can do so with even more peace of mind and with even more confidence that it will be there when they want and need it,” Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said on a conference call with reporters.

But altering deadlines just 19 days before new health insurance compliant with the Affordable Care Act is set to begin seems unlikely to give Americans struggling to sign up much peace of mind, even if they do now have slightly more time to get coverage and pay premiums.

Federally-run high-risk pools funded by the ACA that provide coverage to some 85,000 Americans with pre-existing conditions will continue operating until Jan. 31, 2014. They were scheduled to shut down on Dec. 31, but consumer advocates had warned that some enrollees were struggling to navigate the federal enrollment website HealthCare.gov and risked having a gap in coverage in January.

The Department of Health and Human Services had already extended the deadline to sign up for January coverage from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23. But in a fact sheet distributed to reporters Thursday, the department said it may extend that deadline further “should exceptional circumstances pose barriers to consumers enrolling on or before December 23.” Insurers typically begin coverage the first day of the month after a consumer signs up for a plan. Federal officials said Thursday that those who “experience an issue” signing up for coverage who miss the Dec. 23 deadline will not have to wait until Feb. 1 for a plan to begin, but qualify for “a special enrollment period” allowing coverage to start “as soon as possible.”

Federal officials announced earlier this week that about 250,000 signed up for private health insurance through HealthCare.gov and state-run ACA exchanges in November, after about 100,000 signed up in October. Those figures are far below HHS enrollment targets and far fewer than the number of Americans who buy coverage independently and have seen their plans canceled this fall because they do not comply with the health law. Thursday’s deadline extensions seemed aimed at avoiding a situation in which fewer Americans have commercial health insurance in January 2014 than had it in January 2013, which could serve as an indictment of a law meant to vastly expand coverage.

In a move sure to rankle insurance companies, HHS said it is requiring insurers to cover consumers beginning Jan. 1 if they pay for their first month’s premiums by Dec. 31. The department also said it is “encouraging” insurers to offer retroactive coverage to consumers who sign up even later. “For example, if a person signs up and pays on January 5, they can have coverage with a start date of January 1,” HHS said in its fact sheet about the new deadlines. HHS is also urging insurers to cover those on Jan. 1 who have paid what Sebelius described as a “down payment” on that month’s coverage.

In a statement, Karen Ignagni, head of the lead trade organization representing insurers, warned that the latest deadline changes could add to existing problems with enrollment. “With only weeks to go before coverage begins, continued changes to the rules and guidance could exacerbate the challenges associated with helping consumers through the enrollment process. Health plans will continue to do everything they can to protect consumers from potential coverage disruptions caused by the ongoing technical problems with HealthCare.gov.”

In addition to problems enrolling in coverage through HealthCare.gov, which is managing signups for 36 states, consumer advocates have complained that provider network and covered drug lists posted online through ACA exchanges have been ever changing and inaccurate. Some insurers have altered the list of doctors and hospitals included in their networks after plans went on sale Oct. 1. This means consumers who purchased plans believing their doctors and medications would be included may find out their plans do not cover these in January. HHS has asked insurers to treat out-of-network providers as in-network if the providers were listed as in-network when a person signed up for a plan. The department also asked insurers to cover prescription drugs in January if they were included in a previous plan but excluded from 2014 plans and urged insurers to treat out-of-network providers as in-network in January for patients in the midst of acute care.

It’s unclear if insurers will comply with HHS’s new requests, which will further complicate an enrollment period that has bordered on dysfunctional due to computer problems with HealthCare.gov.

11 comments
hhpac56
hhpac56

"consumer advocates had warned that some enrollees were struggling to navigate the federal enrollment website HealthCare.gov"

This needs to be made clear. The Website is struggling to function to allow enrollees to....enroll. So technically they aren't enrollees due to the fact that the website won't allow you to enroll. I am not for this law however I currently don't have health insurance and was planning on getting it once I could afford it. I am 29, married, have 3 children, have a 15yr loan on a $50,000 home that I purchased which was a foreclosure(to have an affordable payment), car payment(used car), don't have cable or satellite tv(which people on medicaid, food-stamps etc. can afford), never travel and eat out at most twice a month. I earn over $50,000 a year and live modestly. Now I am forced to buy insurance or pay a fine. How about someone trying to help the working middle class instead of growing poverty by taking incentive away from working. Work more and get less or don't work and get something for free. I would be tempted to live off the government if I had no morals or goals in life. I have been trying to enroll on the healthcare.gov exchange for 2 months now with a multitude of errors. It says to wait 30 minutes and try again. When I first applied I would get to a blank enroll page with nothing, no error message or plan to choose. Then after a month it said I needed to verify my wife's immigration status which I promptly did by uploading a jpeg of her Green Card. Submitted. Ok. Gave it a week. Still showed as submitted and could not advance to choose a plan. Waited another week same thing. Called the 1800 number spoke with a nice woman who tried to, as she put it, "bypass" it which didn't work. She then said she would reapply for me over the phone. Ok. At one point I told her my wife doesn't have a job but she did work for a few months while I was recovering from knee surgery and had earned 19,000.00. She asked if I wanted to not include her income on the application. I said it was income so we have to include it. About 3/4 the way through the application over the phone her system goes down after an hour and 15 minutes on the line with her. I laugh to myself. So I log back in with the new application which she started and find she had messed up on a bit of the information I gave her over the phone. So I fix all of that and proceed to finish the new application when one of the annoying loading screens just hangs....I know they all hang for 20-30 seconds but this was like 5 minutes and then a message appears saying that the system is down and to try again in 30 minutes or call in to apply over the phone. The best part is that if I ever get to the magical enrollment screen is that the only plans I will be able to afford won't help me since the deductible will all be insanely high that I will end up paying all of my health care out of pocket and on top of that get to pay a monthly premium. I currently get a discounted rate directly through an area hospital based off of my income(which is not publicly funded) and with my shiny new policy I won't qualify for that anymore. So now I will be paying more for healthcare that is going to be of ultimately less quality. Thank you affordable care act!

doriangrey_grey
doriangrey_grey

Funny, Obama claimed that we were a nation of Laws, but I guess what he really meant was, that whatever he decides the laws are, those are the laws that we are a nation of. 


Paul Ryan is not the Bad Guy.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

Repeal  this abomination already. There is nowhere to go but down. Delaying the inevitable will just make things worse.

eagle11772
eagle11772

@ReneDemonteverde I agree.  Convince the dopey Democrats to do it to this monstrosity.  I blame John Roberts.  If he hadn't said that this obviously unconstitutional law WAS constitutional, then we wouldn't be in this mess.  How's that hopey-changey thing workin out fer ya ? :)

tom.litton
tom.litton

Why repeal it?  Just replace it with something better.

barneydidit
barneydidit

Unfortunately the right seems unable to come up with a replacement for a law they've described as the worst one ever passed in the history of mankind. Talk about incompetence.

tom.litton
tom.litton

What are you going to do if someone without insurance gets into a car accident?  Allow them to die?  What about cancer?   


Will you allow insurance companies to hike the premiums if someone gets cancer?  How about dropping them from coverage?

eagle11772
eagle11772

@barneydidit Our replacement is called "Freedom for all Americans to choose the doctors and health insurance they want without any interference".  Something that the Stalinist Obamanaic is adamantly opposed to.