The Obama administration is attempting to go the extra mile to guarantee that Americans who want health insurance by Jan. 1 are able to get it.
Insurers participating in the Obamacare exchanges are now required to accept premium payments through Dec. 31 for health coverage that will start on New Year's Day, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday. This gives consumers an extra week to pay for their new coverage after the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline.
"We are providing additional flexibility to consumers across the country to ensure they have access to coverage options that begin on Jan. 1, 2014," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says in a statement.
Comparison made to Massachusetts
The many deadline extensions that have followed the troubled Oct. 1 rollout of the exchanges are similar to what happened in Massachusetts, when that state launched its pioneering health insurance reform in 2006, says Deborah Chollet, a health insurance research leader at Mathematica Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
"In Massachusetts, I recall, the deadline for signing up was extended three months," says Chollet, adding that many of the state's consumers had procrastinated about obtaining health insurance. "It's a complex product, it requires some thinking about. The more complex it is, the more people are inclined to put it off. We have a situation that is not surprising."
While helping consumers secure health insurance is a top priority, "continued changes to the rules and guidance could exacerbate the challenges associated with helping consumers through the enrollment process," Karen Ignagni, president of the trade association America's Health Insurance Plans, says in a statement.
This new flexibility may add to the insurance industry's list of headaches, but it is not an indication that the Affordable Care Act will crumble, Chollet says.
"Realistically, everyone thought this was going to take a few years to iron out … There's plenty in the law to keep it afloat while the wrinkles work out, no matter how deep these wrinkles are."
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