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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Getting Health Insurance: It's a Marathon


California, one of 14 states running its own exchange, has been praised for its progress compared to other states and the federal government in enrolling consumers in new insurance plans. More than 156,000 have enrolled in coverage statewide. Roughly a third of enrollees in new marketplaces nationwide are in California, and officials are expecting a rush of applications over the next several days.

California consumers have until Dec. 23 to enroll in coverage and until Jan. 6 to pay their first premium – with Christmas and New Year's holidays in the middle. Other states have even earlier deadlines for payment.

Getting coverage immediately is most important for people who have pre-existing conditions and chronic illnesses. Others may be able to wait: People can apply for coverage in 2014 until March 31.

For those anxious to get insured quickly, Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, underscored the importance of paying the first bill on time.

"Your coverage won't be effective until your payment is received," he said at a news conference on Thursday. "There is a lot of talk about enrollment. When we come into January and February, we are going to talk about one thing – ­­­who has insurance."

Federal officials also are concerned about the time crunch. The administration asked insurers last week to let consumers pay later in January for coverage that would still begin Jan. 1 and to allow partial payments for the first month. Insurers have not yet responded.

In California, insurance companies have sent out more than 60,000 invoices but few customers have paid, Lee said. Covered California is running radio advertisements reminding people about the payment deadline, and insurance companies are adding staff and expanding hours to process applications and payments.

Sharp Health Plan, based in San Diego, is allowing consumers to pay by phone, online and in person, and plans to stay open every day but Christmas and New Year's.

"We are all on call and we are all trained to accept payment," said Melissa Hayden-Cook, CEO of the company.

Blue Shield of California spokesman Steve Shivinsky said the company is sending out letters reminding applicants to pay. “It is going to be quite clear to the consumer that we have received their application and now it is time for them to write their first month’s premium payment,” he said.

Covered California didn't start transferring applicants' information to insurers until several weeks into open enrollment. Spokesman Dana Howard said the exchange was making sure the system worked and that the insurance companies were set up to receive the data.

Insurance companies said they are now receiving the data daily and the information is largely complete and accurate, in contrast to the problems in the federal exchange.

Mon, Dec 16 2013

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