By Phil Galewitz
Mon, Sep 30 2013
When consumers start shopping for coverage through new federally run health insurance exchanges on Tuesday, they will be asked dozens of questions before they are shown what health plans are available and how much they cost.
Then, to finalize their enrollment, they must contact the private insurer and pay their first monthly premium.
If enrollees don’t pay their insurer by Dec. 15, they will not have coverage that takes effect Jan. 1, federal health officials said Monday. If they miss that first deadline, however, open enrollment runs through March 2014.
The disclosure that consumers will need to contact and pay insurers before their coverage can go into effect came as federal health officials for the first time showed off the online exchange process at www.healthcare.gov. The system is slated to go live at 8 a.m. ET Tuesday.
The federal government is running the online marketplaces in 34 states; Sixteen have built their own systems, which may be set up differently, using federal money from the Affordable Care Act.
On the federal website, consumers have to fill in their name, age, email address, ZIP code, estimated 2014 income and then answer questions about other household members and whether they file taxes jointly or individually, if they smoke regularly or have recently moved or changed jobs. The federal officials spent nearly 35 minutes showing how the process would work for a family of three looking for coverage.
While the exchange process may appear burdensome, it is common for people today buying insurance to have to compete a lengthy applications including providing a detailed medical history. They no longer have to provide any health information.
Sarah Lueck, a policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the key point for consumers to remember is that once they have selected and enrolled in a plan, they may have only a short period to pay the insurer.
The law requires insurers to accept personal checks, electronic fund transfers, credit cards, prepaid debit cards, cashier’s checks and money orders, she said.