The lobbying group for health insurance companies announced Wednesday that consumers who pay premiums by Jan. 10 for plans purchased through the new health care exchanges will have coverage retroactive to Jan. 1.
The previous deadline to pay premiums for January coverage was Dec. 31. Wednesday’s move by American’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) was in response to pressure from federal officials still scrambling to recover from the bungled launch of the federal exchange web site HealthCare.gov, a key part of the health care reform law. Last week, amid concerns people might not be able to sign up for new plans before their existing coverage expires, the Department of Health and Human Services said it was “encouraging” insurers to extend the deadline for paying January premiums. While Wednesday’s AHIP announcement definitely applies to consumers shopping through HealthCare.gov, it’s unclear if the 14 states and Washington, D.C. running their own exchanges will follow suit.
In a statement announcing the deadline extension, AHIP said a consumer’s January 2014 coverage will not begin until that month’s premium has been paid, but that coverage will be retroactive if the new deadline. This means those seeking medical care before they pay premiums for January may have to cover their own costs initially or ask health care providers to submit claims for reimbursement once actual coverage has begun.
“Our community is taking an important step to give consumers greater peace of mind about their health care coverage,” AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni said in a statement.
It’s just the latest deadline extension during the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement. HHS had previously extended the deadline for consumers to sign up for January plans, but not pay for them, from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23. HHS also said it would keep federally run “high risk pools” for those with pre-existing conditions open until Jan. 31, a month beyond their original expiration date, to prevent consumers from having coverage gaps due to problems with HealthCare.gov. HHS also said it hoped insurers would accept partial premium payments to start coverage on Jan. 1, although AHIP did not announce such a move Wednesday.
HealthCare.gov launched Oct. 1 and was quickly hobbled by major technical problems, rendering the site virtually useless for much of that month. In the weeks since, federal officials say a team of experts has been working feverishly to improve the website’s functionality. As of Nov. 30, HHS said 137,204 had selected plans through the federal exchange, although it’s unclear how many have made payments to insurers for 2014 coverage.