Tardy Idaho health insurance buyers catch a break

Some Idahoans have from a few days to two weeks extra to pay premiums for health care plans.

adutton@idahostatesman.comJanuary 11, 2014 

Procrastinators, you win this round. So do those of you who were hampered by technical troubles when you shopped for health insurance last year.

A mad rush of people signed up for health insurance between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, according to Idaho insurers.

But many consumers were late paying their premiums by Friday’s deadline. So three insurers are giving some customers an extension on the deadline to pay their tabs in time to have coverage for the whole month of January.

“We got slammed at the end of the year,” said Karen Early, spokeswoman for Blue Cross of Idaho.

The company — one of four selling health insurance plans to individual Idahoans on Your Health Idaho, the new state-run exchange — was receiving 2,000 calls per day as December came to a close, she said.

But about 25 percent of those who have signed up hadn’t made their payments as of Jan. 9, she said.

This is not the first extension.

When insurance exchanges opened for business in October, people who wanted coverage to start Jan. 1 had to pick a plan by Dec. 15 and pay the first month’s premium that month. But the buggy rollout of HealthCare.gov — the website Idaho and many other states are using for enrollments — combined with federal holidays caused too much chaos for insurers and the Obama administration to ignore.

With the administration’s permission, many insurers announced in late December that people who picked out plans on health insurance exchanges by Dec. 24 could have until Friday, Jan. 10, to pay their bills — and their plans would be retroactive to Jan. 1. (The administration later gave insurers some flexibility to stretch their signup deadline to Dec. 31 for consumers who had technical difficulties.)

Now, those buyers have another two weeks to pay — if their insurers allow it. Not every Idaho insurer will. And extensions are valid only for people who signed up in December.

WHO GETS MORE TIME?

- Blue Cross of Idaho moved its deadline for paying the first month’s premium to Jan. 31.

- SelectHealth will take January’s premiums until Jan. 31, even though almost 80 percent of the Utah-based insurer’s 4,000 new individual members in Idaho paid their premiums on time. “This can be a confusing time, and we want to ensure our members that SelectHealth is here to help them make a smooth transition,” said CEO Patricia Richards.

- PacificSource, an Oregon-based insurer with a large Boise office, moved its deadline to next Wednesday, Jan. 15. As of Thursday, more than 50 percent of all new members had paid their premiums, said Dave Self, regional director of PacificSource in Idaho and Washington.

“We will continue to monitor the situation for any extenuating circumstances caused by decisions made by the federal government or federal agencies,” he said.

- BridgeSpan, the sister company of Regence BlueShield of Idaho, did not extend its deadline.

“That said, we have been doing extensive outbound calls to people we have not received payment from to remind them of the date and offer them the option to simply pay by phone or if they need any other assistance,” said spokeswoman Georganne Benjamin.

Customer service employees worked overtime and through the Christmas and New Year’s weekends to make calls to customers, she said.

About 75 percent of BridgeSpan’s new enrollees had paid their premiums by Friday morning, “which correlates with our historical receipt of payments and the fact that there is a portion of people who wait until the very last minute to pay the premium,” Benjamin said.

NEXT DEADLINE MAY CREEP UP ON YOU

Keep in mind: February premiums are due in a matter of weeks. For members of SelectHealth, the February premium deadline is Jan. 31 — the same day as the extended January deadline.

And don’t expect benefits to kick in right away. If you buy insurance by the 15th of the month, that plan’s coverage goes live the first of the next month. If you buy it on the 16th, you’ll have to wait about six weeks to use your benefits.

And if you haven’t already purchased health insurance, or even tried to sign up? You still have some time. Open enrollment runs through March 31. Anyone who buys a plan by that day will meet the deadline to avoid an Affordable Care Act tax penalty.

Nobody has announced plans to give procrastinators an extension on that make-or-break deadline.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey

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