Then, last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sought to delay another key deadline, the date by which consumers have to pay their first month's premium. As it stood, payments had to be received before coverage began (so, by Dec. 31), but HHS asked insurers to be flexible.
On Wednesday, health insurance companies obliged, extending the payment deadline to Jan. 10 instead of Jan. 1.
So where does this leave folks? It's still not totally clear.
HHS hinted last week that the enrollment deadline was still not set in stone. "We will consider moving this deadline to a later date should exceptional circumstances pose barriers to consumers enrolling on or before December 23." The department's fact sheetdid not define "exceptional circumstances."
The confusion only builds. The federal government sets enrollment deadlines for the 36 states for which it handles sign-ups; the 14 state-based insurance marketplaces set theirown deadlines. Read these couple paragraphs from a story by Jeffrey Young at The Huffington Post:
Here's an excerpt from Wednesday's Seattle Times about Washington's deadlines:
All of those dates could still change, so if you are in need of coverage, it's best to ask questions early and often.
"There is massive confusion around deadlines," Mike Perry, co-founder of research firm PerryUndem, recently told The Washington Post. He has traveled the country doing focus groups with uninsured Americans this past month. "March comes up. January is prominent. But nobody seems to know the deadlines," Perry said.
If you don't need coverage that begins Jan. 1, you're in luck. The 2014 open enrollment period for the health insurance marketplaces runs through March 31, although your coverage generally won't begin until the month after you sign up. (Most consumers who go without insurance in 2014 will have to pay a penalty.)
In the next few days, as enrollment surges ahead of Monday's "deadline," we'll begin to understand the scope of the problem. Covered California on Wednesday said that 15,000 people a day are signing up for coverage; in New York, the figure is 4,500.
I've heard from a number of consumers this week saying that they had not yet received invoices from their insurance companies, and so they have been unable to pay their first month's premiums. Along the same lines, at a forum for health journalists last week, an official from the Community Service Society of New York said that she was told that three prominent insurance companies were only beginning to send out invoices to their enrollees.
As I reported last week, some insurers reported that only 5 percent to 15 percent of enrollees had paid their first month's premium.
If you're rushing to make a last-minute choice, check out WNYC's Procrastinator's Guide to Getting Insured. I am talking about various aspects of buying insurance each morning this week on WNYC. Also, see the tips offered by California consumer group Health Access.
And please let me know what your experience is like.
Editor's Note: This post is adapted from Ornstein's "Healthy buzz" blog. Have you tried signing up for health care coverage through the new exchanges? Help us cover the Affordable Care Act by sharing your insurance story.
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