HHS extends several Obamacare deadlines

Sebelius says changes prompted by technical problems

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Thursday announced efforts to extend certain Affordable Care Act (ACA) deadlines, which are intended to ease the transition to coverage in the law's new insurance marketplaces in 2014.

Sebelius said that changes were prompted by the various technical issues that plagued the online marketplaces—particularly the federal health insurance exchange—when they launched in October, which hampered consumers' efforts to enroll in health plans.

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As a result, she said many consumers will need more time to select and pay for the new coverage.

Sebelius said HHS has:

  • Officially asked insurers to honor the new Dec. 23 deadline for coverage that begins on Jan. 1;
  • Urged insurers to give consumers more time—until Dec. 31—to make their payments for coverage that begins Jan. 1 and asked them to accept late or partial payments for coverage; and
  • Extended by one month—through the end of January 2014—the federal Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, which has been providing coverage to about 100,000 U.S. residents with severe health conditions who were unable to purchase private coverage prior to the ACA.

In addition, Sebelius announced that HHS has asked insurers to provide "retroactive coverage for people who sign up after Jan. 1," meaning that if a consumer signs up for coverage on Jan. 5, their coverage would still be effective on Jan. 1. Some consumers who experienced unique problems with signing up for coverage in the federal or state exchanges also would be eligible for a "special enrollment period," which will provide them with extra time to complete their enrollment.

Officials in the Obama administration said that they are encouraging insurers to make additional voluntary accommodations for new enrollees, such as continuing coverage for patients' preferred physicians and providing temporary coverage for prescription drugs, even if those physicians or drugs are not covered under the new plans (Pear, New York Times, 12/12; Demko, Modern Healthcare, 12/12l Kliff, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 12/12; Galewitz, Kaiser Health News, 12/12; Young, CQ Roll Call, 12/12).

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