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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

by Charles Ornstein, ProPublica.

You aren’t alone if you’re confused about the deadline to sign up for coverage on the health insurance marketplaces. The deadline is — and has been — in flux.

When the process began in October, consumers using HealthCare.gov, the federal marketplace for 36 states, had until Dec. 15 to pick a plan if they wanted coverage that begins Jan. 1. But because of the well-publicized glitches with the website, federal officials last month extended that deadline until Dec. 23.

Then, last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sought to delay another key deadline, the date by which consumers have to pay their first month’s premium. As it stood, payments had to be received before coverage began (so, by Dec. 31), but HHS asked insurers to be flexible.

On Wednesday, health insurance companies obliged, extending the payment deadline to Jan. 10 instead of Jan. 1.

So where does this leave folks? It’s still not totally clear.

HHS hinted last week that the enrollment deadline was still not set in stone. “We will consider moving this deadline to a later date should exceptional circumstances pose barriers to consumers enrolling on or before December 23.” The department’s fact sheet did not define “exceptional circumstances.”

The confusion only builds. The federal government sets enrollment deadlines for the 36 states for which it handles signups; the 14 state-based insurance marketplaces set their own deadlines. Read these paragraphs from a story by Jeffrey Young at The Huffington Post:

The final date to choose a health plan that will be in place on Jan. 1 is Dec. 23 in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Marylanders and Oregonians have until Dec. 27, although Oregon residents had only until Dec. 4 to file paper applications with the state exchange because online enrollment remains unavailable.

The deadline to pay January premiums is now Jan. 10 in the 36 states served by the federal exchanges and in Colorado and New York. Users of the exchanges in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Nevada have to pay by Dec. 23. The due date is Jan. 1 for Kentuckians, Jan. 6 for Rhode Islanders, Jan. 7 for Vermonters and Jan. 15 for Marylanders. In the District of Columbia, Aetna customers have until Jan. 8, while CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Kaiser Permanente enrollees can pay up until Jan. 15. Hawaii and Oregon are still determining their respective payment deadlines.

Here’s an excerpt from Wednesday’s Seattle Times about Washington’s deadlines:

Washington residents who have started but not finished their applications for insurance through the state’s new health care exchange are getting a deadline reprieve, state officials announced Wednesday.

Anyone who begins an application before the previous deadline of Dec. 23, will get as much help as they need to finish and won’t face a real deadline until Jan. 15, said Michael Marchand, spokesman for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

“The most important thing I want people to do is to take the action to get that application started. We can work with them at that point,” Marchand said Wednesday.

All of those dates could still change, so if you are in need of coverage, it’s best to ask questions early and often.

“There is massive confusion around deadlines,” Mike Perry, co-founder of research firm PerryUndem, recently told The Washington Post. He has traveled the country doing focus groups with uninsured Americans this past month. “March comes up. January is prominent. But nobody seems to know the deadlines,” Perry said.

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