Insurers have agreed to extend the deadline for individuals to pay for insurance policies they choose through President Obama's health care program, industry group America's Health Insurance Plans announced Wednesday, about a week after the Department of Health and Human Services "strongly encouraged" it to do so.
As a result of the change, individuals who pick plans by Dec. 23 will be considered covered as of Jan. 1 as long as they pay their first month's premiums by Jan. 10. Previously, payment had been required by Dec. 31.
"The short time period in which to complete these steps, particularly around the holidays, combined with the ongoing technical issues with healthcare.gov have raised concerns that some consumers’ coverage may not be able to begin on January 1," AHIP wrote in a statement.
AHIP President Karen Ignagni said, “Our community is taking an important step to give consumers greater peace of mind about their health care coverage."
Though AHIP acknowledged that fixes to the federal health exchange website had made "significant progress" as far as the consumer experience was concerned, the group cautioned that "more work needs to be done to resolve the back-end challenges, particularly those related to processing enrollment files, to ensure all consumers who selected a plan are enrolled in coverage."
Last Thursday, HHS released a series of public requests to insurers to help mitigate the problems caused by the botched rollout of Obamacare.
In addition to asking insurers to allow consumers more time to process payments, HHS asked insurers to treat out-of-network providers as in-network, to continue to allow individuals to refill prescriptions that had been covered under previous plans and to accept partial payments for January premiums. AHIP did not address those requests in its statement.
The announcement by AHIP is a signal that despite the growing frustration with the technical problems facing the rollout of Obamacare, insurers aren't quite ready to go to war with the Obama administration. HHS has too much regulatory power over insurers and insurers have too much riding on the law — both in terms of their own investment and the potential to access hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies through the exchanges. So, for now, their fortunes continue to be intertwined.