Monday, December 23, 2013

Federal, state Obamacare deadline extended another day

By Jamey Dunn

While today is the official deadline to sign up for insurance coverage, which would kick in on January 1, under the Affordable Care Act, consumers have been given a little extra time.

President Barack Obama’s administration already delayed the cut off for purchasing insurance through online marketplaces, known as exchanges. The original deadline for coverage that starts with the new year was December 15. But after the federal exchange and many state exchanges experienced chronic technical problems, that deadline was bumped to December 23. However, the feds quietly pushed that deadline back as well. The federal exchange will now allow consumers to purchase policies, with coverage that begins on January 1, by midnight December 24.

The move was made without an official announcement, but the Washington Post broke the news earlier today. “Anticipating high demand and the fact that consumers may be enrolling from multiple time zones, we have taken steps to make sure that those who select a plan through tomorrow will get coverage for January 1,” Julie Bataille communications director for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a written statement after word got out.

Those turning to the Illinois exchange, Getcoveredillinois.gov, to purchase insurance coverage will also get another day to buy plans that kick in on January 1. Mike Claffey, a health care spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn, said Illinois residents will get the same options offered on the federal site because the state’s jointly run exchange links to the federal exchange. But he said Illinois officials are advising those in need of coverage not to wait until the last minute. “We are urging people not to wait and to go ahead and try to get it done today if you can.” Claffey said that technically, the deadline has been extended for people who have already started the process and created an account on the site. So he said at the very least, those interested in getting coverage by January 1 should start the process today. “If you haven’t started yet, it’s getting pretty late in the game.”

This is just one of many recent tweaks to the law, known as Obamacare. The president faced loud criticism from Republicans and some in his own party after insurance companies began canceling plans that did not meet the basic requirements set out in the law. Obama said on several occasion before the law went into effect that if Americans liked the insurance they had, they could keep it. But Obamacare requires insurance plans to offer a set base level of coverage in 10 “essential health” categories, such as prescription coverage, ambulatory care and preventative care.

Instead of upgrading their more bare-bones offerings, many companies opted to cancel the plans, resulting in millions of consumers receiving letters informing them that their policies would not be renewed. Last month, the Obama administration announced that these companies could renew such policies for one more year in states that would allow it. Illinois officials decided to let providers continue to offer such plans. Those who were covered by insurance providers that opted not to extend their plans could be eligible for a “temporary hardship” exemption, which would allow them the buy the catastrophic plan available through the exchange. That plan offers a low level of coverage for a cheaper price, but was originally only available to consumers under 30. To qualify for the exemption, consumers must be able to prove that their previous coverage was terminated.

They may also be eligible for federal subsides to help them purchase a plan that does meet the coverage requirements under the new law. People who pick a plan by tomorrow at midnight will be scheduled to have their coverage start in January. However, those who miss the cut off can still get insurance through the exchange. Open enrollment will continue through March 31.

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