- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2014

President Obama’s top health official pleaded Friday with new and returning Obamacare customers to shop for the best deal on the insurance exchanges by Monday — the deadline to sign up for coverage that takes effect on Jan. 1.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell made her pitch on Capitol Hill after meeting with religious leaders at the United Methodist Building.

Places of worship play a key role in building trust and enrolling people from their community, she said, and the administration is leaning on several avenues to get the word out about the looming deadline.

While Mrs. Burwell spoke, President Obama pitched the health overhaul as a call-in guest on ESPN Radio.

Returning customers who want to keep coverage they bought last year can do nothing and be re-enrolled for Jan. 1, but officials have asked these customers to shop for the best deal — plans and premiums change from year to year — and update their personal information for 2015 so they get the correct amount of government subsidy.

“You may not get all of the financial assistance that you deserve and are able to get,” she said of those who do not log back into the marketplace portals.

People who re-enroll on autopilot can still revisit the marketplace before the sign-up season ends Feb. 15 and make changes, but Mrs. Burwell said “it’s best that people do it now, before Dec. 15.”

Obamacare’s second-ever round of open enrollment began Nov. 15 and has gone smoothly compared to last year’s, when glitches on the federal HealthCare.gov website thoroughly embarrassed the White House and required a high-profile rescue mission.

The administration had to push back its deadline last December for Jan. 1 coverage, but the administration has no plans to postpone this year’s cutoff dates.

The official deadline to acquire coverage for Jan. 1 will be midnight on the Pacific coast, or 3 a.m. eastern time Tuesday.

Administration officials have projected that 9.1 million people will hold coverage through the federal and state-run exchanges in 2015 — far short of congressional estimates of 13 million enrollees.

HealthCare.gov is serving 37 states this year, one more than it did last year after two states — Nevada and Oregon — shifted onto it from their glitchy state-run portals and another state, Idaho, departed and set up its own website.

The private sector is getting into the act, too, and seeing a bump in business ahead of Monday’s deadline.

HealthCare.com, a website that allows people to compare plans and prices both on and off the exchanges, said it has seen a 57 percent increase in user referrals to one of its health insurance partners — certified agencies, call centers, web-based entities or actual insurance companies — from prior to the Nov. 15 kickoff to the week of shopping that ended Dec. 5.

“This growth demonstrates the importance of giving consumers multiple choices to find an affordable health insurance plan and enroll,” HealthCare.com CEO Jeff Smedsrud said.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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