- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Health insurers may give Obamacare customers on the federal marketplace extra time to pay their premiums, giving customers a cushion as they renew plans tied to the overhaul for the first time.

The industry’s top lobbying group announced the move, which is voluntary for health plans, in conjunction with the midnight deadline Monday to select or renew health coverage on the exchange and have it by Jan. 1.

“Our community wants to do everything we can to make sure consumers have greater peace of mind about their health care coverage and to support them throughout the open enrollment process,” said Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans.

The group encouraged customers to check with their respective insurers to see what kind of leeway they have to pay their first premiums at some point in January, rather than by Dec. 31.

The move is reminiscent of the easing payment deadlines customers saw last year, when the federal HealthCare.gov website had to overcome serious online glitches. This time, the move is designed to stem confusion among returning customers who are automatically renewing coverage or switching plans.

AHIP said the leeway gives them time to assist customers as they switch or take stock of changing costs in the new year, and to make sure they are not double-billed for both new and old coverage.

AHIP said health plans will prepare their call centers to field concerns from Obamacare customers and issue refunds “when appropriate” if double-billing occurs.

The Obama administration is expected to announce details later Tuesday about how Monday’s deadline for selecting or renewing coverage unfolded.

The administration had pleaded with returning customers to “go shopping” on the health exchanges for the best deal, because those who automatically renewed their plans might see their premiums may go up, or their government subsidy could go down if they did not update their personal data for 2015.

The administration has projected it will see 9.1 million enrollees by the end of 2015 — far short of congressional estimates of 13 million.

Avalere Health, a Washington-based consultancy, released a study Tuesday that projects 10.5 million enrollees, plus or minus 1 million.

“Growth in 2015 enrollment is helping to solidify the exchanges as a viable commercial market for health plans and consumers,” Avalere CEO Dan Mendelson said. “There are still millions of low-income people who will benefit from federal subsidies — an important incentive to drive growth provided they have the information to make informed decisions.”

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