Initially the deadline for health insurance provided through Obamacare slated to begin Jan. 1 was Dec. 15, then Dec. 23, then Dec. 24. After nearly 2 million last-minute shoppers stormed the Healthcare.gov website on Monday and another 250,000 phoned call centers, the Department of Health and Human Services realized that the rush might cause a traffic jam.
"Anticipating high demand and the fact that consumers may be enrolling from multiple time zones, we have taken steps to make sure that those who select a plan through tomorrow will get coverage for Jan. 1," said Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to CNN on Monday.
A post on the Healthcare.gov website offers an imprecise, vaguely worded extension to certain consumers: "If you weren't able to enroll in an insurance plan by December 23 because of problems you had using HealthCare.gov, you still may be able to get coverage that starts January 1."
The note urged people who had difficulty enrolling to contact the Marketplace Call Center and speak to representatives. The representatives will gauge consumers' circumstances and offer them options, on a case-by-case basis. "These may include starting a new application over the phone to get coverage effective on January 1," the post noted. The post can still be seen here, as of Thursday afternoon.
For those individuals who have already enrolled in their chosen health plan on the exchange and paid for coverage, it isn't time to relax yet. Less than a month ago, the website was sending incomplete identification information to insurance companies. And in early December, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the back-end financial management system for healthcare.gov would only be ready in mid-January, according to CBS News.
These deadline delays, website glitches, exemptions, and all of the noise regarding Obamacare's implementation that have ravaged President Barack Obama's poll numbers and credibility, could be silenced beginning Jan. 1, if the administration provides clear guidance to the health overhaul and positive results in the next few weeks.
Due to website outages and errors processing claims, HHS announced delay after delay to the proposed cutoff for consumers targeting Jan. 1 as the start of their insurance plans through the new health care exchange.
While on Dec. 11, Sebelius assured the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and indirectly the public, that enrollment and reimbursement to insurance providers were separate beasts entirely (and even persuaded America's Health Insurance Plan (AHIP), the largest trade association representing the health industry, to extend its deadline for paying the first month's premiums until Jan. 10) a complacent consumer who hasn't independently verified the government's process, may find herself in trouble.
Not every insurance provider has extended payment deadlines. These deadlines vary from state-to-state, particularly among states that have their own health care exchange program. For coverage beginning Jan. 1, consumers in California and Rhode Island must pay their first month's premium by Jan. 6. Vermont's deadline is Jan. 7, according to Fox News.
Anyone who has submitted an application and payment should phone his or her insurance provider directly to confirm receipt of both transactions. Although, this process may take a little time. "If a consumer signed up yesterday, they shouldn't expect the health plan to have their enrollment application today," Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for AHIP told the Associated Press. "Allow a couple of days to receive and process those enrollments."
Those who are eligible for health insurance on the exchange and plan to buy it later this year should mark their calendars for March 31, when the 2014 enrollment period ends. Those who have not been granted exemptions will be fined $95 or 1 percent of their income, whichever is more.