(Corrects fourth paragraph to show Health Care Service Corp
deadline is Jan. 30 not Jan. 31)
By Caroline Humer
NEW YORK Jan 8 Some top U.S. health insurers
are giving consumers more time to pay their Obamacare premiums,
extending the deadline to the end of January for benefits that
begin retroactively from Jan. 1.
The new extension adds to a series of deadline delays by
government and the insurance industry to compensate for
technical failures and errors plaguing the enrollment process
under President Barack Obama's healthcare law.
The Obama administration and insurers have been working to
prevent cases where problems in setting up new policies meant a
consumer who thought they had insurance would not have benefits
when they needed them. Republican opponents of the law have
seized on its troubled rollout as a top issue for 2014
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Blue Cross Blue Shield of
Illinois and three more BCBS plans that are part of the
privately held Health Care Service Corp chain have moved the
first payment deadline to Jan. 30 from Jan. 10. All of the plans
are sold through the federal website HealthCare.gov, which had a
Dec. 24 deadline for customers to enroll and be guaranteed
coverage by Jan. 1 in 36 states.
Others, including Aetna Inc, said they were still
considering this Friday to be the payment deadline.
Technical problems prevented consumer access to
HealthCare.gov in the first two months following its launch on
Oct. 1. An emergency effort to fix the site allowed hundreds of
thousands of people to use it daily by early December, and the
Obama administration urged insurers to give consumers leeway to
sort through any remaining errors. America's Health Insurance
Plans, a top industry trade and lobbying group, recommended a
first payment deadline of Jan. 10.
By late December, more than 2 million people nationwide had
picked new private insurance plans under Obamacare, but the
number included consumers who have yet to pay their first
premium and therefore are not truly enrolled.
Insurers say they have been communicating to customers
through social media, targeted emails and telephone calls to let
them know they need to pay.
"We have been receiving a significant volume of payments and
continue to assist members in activating their coverage. But
some signed up close to the deadline, so we are extending the
payment deadline to give customers extra time to pay their first
month's premium," Lauren Perlstein Plungas, a spokeswoman for
Health Care Service Corp, said in a statement.
Independence Blue Cross Blue Shield, based in Philadelphia,
is also moving its time frame to pay, until Jan. 28, a
spokeswoman said. Independence is selling its plans for
Pennsylvania on HealthCare.gov.
WellPoint Inc, which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield
in 14 states and is known for its Anthem and Empire brands, said
that its first payment deadline is now Jan. 15. WellPoint is
selling plans on HealthCare.gov and on some of the 14 exchanges
run by states. It previously set a Jan. 10 deadline.
The state-run Covered California exchange announced this
past weekend that it was moving the payment date for insurance
plans to Jan. 15 from a previous deadline of Jan. 6, saying that
its extension was aimed at easing the rush by consumers to pay
(Reporting by Caroline Humer; editing by Michele Gershberg and