(HealthDay News) – The Obama administration is taking steps to prevent consumers who buy health plans sold through state and federal exchanges from experiencing any gap in coverage this January. Under new rules, health insurers must accept payment up until Dec. 31 for coverage that begins the following day. Earlier guidance did not establish a payment deadline, allowing insurers to set their own dates. “And we’re recommending that insurers extend this deadline further,” U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said during a Thursday news conference to announce the changes.
A day earlier, HHS released new enrollment figures for health plans sold through the exchanges — the main gateway for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Fewer than 365,000 people selected a health plan in the first two months of open enrollment, well below initial projections.
Open enrollment runs through March 31. But consumers only have until Dec. 23 to enroll in a plan if they want coverage to take effect on Jan. 1. As the deadline approaches, the administration is asking health insurers to be more lenient. Insurers are urged to allow coverage on Jan. 1, for example, even if consumers only pay part of the premium by the deadline.
Health officials are also asking insurers to provide coverage retroactive to Jan. 1 as long as consumers enroll in a plan and pay the premium before the end of January. “The steps the administration is taking today are important to help ensure that consumers seamlessly transition from their current health plans into marketplace coverage without experiencing any gaps in coverage,” Michael Hash, director of HHS’s Office of Health Reform, said during Thursday’s news conference.