HHS Extends Exchange Deadline for Jan. 1 Coverage by Eight Days

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On Friday, the Obama administration announced that it would give consumers an additional eight days to enroll in coverage through the health insurance exchanges that begins Jan. 1, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 11/22).

During a daily press call, CMS spokesperson Julie Bataille said HHS decided to extend the deadline for purchasing coverage from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23 "to give people as much time as possible" to purchase insurance, in part because so many individuals have had trouble accessing HealthCare.gov (Kliff, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 11/22). Bataille said consumers will have until Dec. 31 to pay their first month's premiums (Pear/Shear, New York Times, 11/22).

She said the website developers for HealthCare.gov have been "in ongoing conversations with insurers" to ensure that health plans will be able to handle the compressed time period between the final day of enrollment and Jan. 1, 2014 (Conn, Modern Healthcare, 11/22). According to the Washington Post's "Wonkblog," the original Dec. 15 deadline was intended to give insurers enough time to send out medical cards and get new patients into their systems ("Wonkblog," Washington Post, 11/22).

Bataille said that after December, the enrollment deadline will go back to being the 15th of each subsequent month to obtain coverage that will start on the first of the following month (Modern Healthcare, 11/22).

Insurers Concerned About Timing

Despite assurances, the move has left insurers split on whether they will be able to meet the deadline, the Wall Street Journal reports.

A spokesperson for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of North Carolina said, "This is another big change, and it comes very late in the game, but ultimately we'll have to find a way to make it work for our customers."

Meanwhile, Mario Molina, CEO of Molina Healthcare, described the new timetable as manageable. He said his company can load customers into its system within a day or two (Radnofsky/Martin, Wall Street Journal, 11/22).

2015 Open Enrollment Delayed

In related news, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Friday confirmed reports that HHS is delaying by one month the start of open enrollment in the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges for coverage that would begin in 2015, the Times reports.

Carney said the delay "gives [insurers] more time to assess the pool of people who are getting insurance through the marketplaces and make decisions about what rates will look like in the coming year" (New York Times, 11/22).

Spanish-Language Site To Be Released This Month

Meanwhile, CMS said the Spanish-language version of HealthCare.gov, which was supposed to go live in mid-October, would not be available until the end of this month, the Wall Street Journal reports.

A CMS spokesperson said that the department is prioritizing fixes to the English-language website and other computer systems, noting that there are alternative ways for Spanish speakers to enroll in coverage, such as through the call centers, which staff Spanish-speaking workers, and through Spanish-speaking in-person assisters.

Currently, the Spanish website provides visitors with general information about health insurance and directs them to the alternative enrollment methods (Schatz, Wall Street Journal, 11/24).


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