HHS to push deadline for Jan. 1 health coverage
By: Brett Norman
November 22, 2013 02:03 PM EST
The Obama administration is pushing the application deadline for people who want insurance coverage Jan. 1 under Obamacare, giving them eight more days to enroll because of the website problems that have blocked many from signing up.
CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille said today that consumers who complete applications by Dec. 23 will be covered at the outset of 2014. The enrollment deadline had been Dec. 15 so insurers would have time to process applications.
Although continued improvements to HealthCare.gov are increasing the number of visitors able to use the site — with the government’s tech chief projecting the portal will be able to handle 800,000 people a day by the end of November — Bataille said the administration wanted to offer consumers extra time to shop and apply for coverage.
“We want to give people time to make their decisions,” she said on a conference call with reporters. Consumers will still need to pay a first month’s premium before coverage will be in force.
The deadline change only applies to coverage that starts on the first day of 2014. The enrollment deadline for coverage in 2014 remains March 31.
Bataille did not answer a question about whether the move was optional for insurers — as is the president’s proposed fix for a wave of cancelled policies — or whether the government was guaranteeing that insurers would honor the extended deadline.
She did say that the administration had discussed the move with the industry. “We’ve been in ongoing conversations with issuers, and they are aware of this date change, and this was done in consultation with them,” she said.
AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach responded in an email that pushing the deadline by more than a week “makes it more challenging to process enrollments in time for coverage to begin on Jan. 1. Ultimately it will depend on how many people enroll in those last few days.”
Problems with the enrollment portal, combined with many health plan cancellations, have raised concerns about people not getting covered by Jan. 1. In addition to people losing traditional policies in the individual market due to Obamacare requirements, tens of thousands of people with coverage in state pre-existing pools need insurance by the first of the year to avoid coverage gaps since many states’ pools are slated to close.
Jeff Zients, who is heading the federal “tech surge” to repair HealthCare.gov, said today that the government’s team is planning to double its capacity by Nov. 30 — from the site being able to comfortably handle 25,000 visitors at any one time now to 50,000, the traffic volume it was intended to accommodate.
“Yes, we think this gives us the capacity to reach everyone we need to reach across this period of time,” he said.
Nonetheless, Zients said surges in traffic are expected to continue to overwhelm the site, so technicians are installing “a consumer-friendly queuing” system that will send emails to people when the site is ready to handle more users.