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Nation/World

December 19, 2013

Insurers allow more time to pay under health law

WASHINGTON — Consumers anxious over tight insurance deadlines and lingering computer problems during the holidays will get extra time to pay their premiums under President Barack Obama’s health care law, insurers announced Wednesday.

The board of the industry’s biggest trade group — America’s Health Insurance Plans — said consumers who select a plan by Dec. 23 will now have until Jan. 10 to pay their first month’s premium. That’s 10 extra days beyond a New Year’s Eve deadline set by the government.

The voluntary move comes as insurers and the government try to head off anticipated problems around the first of the year, when new coverage options for the uninsured take effect under Obama’s law, and when several million people whose existing policies were canceled must switch to new plans.

Expect even bigger political trouble for the president if consumers who made a good-faith effort to get covered through the government’s balky website show up at the pharmacy and can’t get prescriptions filled, or if they turn up in the emergency room and there’s no record that they are enrolled. The stakes would be higher this time because someone’s health could be jeopardized.

The administration applauded the industry decision. It will “ultimately make it easier for consumers to enroll” through the new online insurance markets, said Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters. The federal HealthCare.gov website is now working reasonably well, but insurers still report accuracy problems with enrollment information the government is sending about their new customers.

Karen Ignagni, CEO of the industry group, said the decision was taken “to give consumers greater peace of mind about their health care coverage.” AHIP represents about 95 percent of the industry, including the major national carriers and nearly all the BlueCross BlueShield plans.

There may be a few insurers who do not follow the group’s lead, so consumers are advised to check with their carrier. Consumers must pay their first month’s premium on time for coverage to take effect.

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