Americans Will Have More Time To Pay For Their First Month Of Obamacare Coverage

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. David Ake

The national trade association representing the U.S. health insurance industry announced on Wednesday that Americans will have an extended deadline — up through January 10 — to pay their first month’s premium for Obamacare coverage that takes effect on New Year’s Day 2014.

“To provide greater peace of mind for consumers purchasing coverage through the new federal and state marketplaces, America’s Health Insurance Plans’ (AHIP) Board of Directors today announced that health plans are voluntarily extending the deadline for consumers to pay their first month’s premium,” wrote AHIP in a statement. “Consumers who select their plans by December 23 and pay their premiums by January 10 will be able to have coverage effective January 1.”

The extension comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that the Obama administration would be extending several key ACA deadlines — and encouraging insurers to voluntarily extend others — to provide a buffer for Americans who might otherwise have fallen into a coverage gap because of problems with state and federal Obamacare web portals. Several recent media reports prompted fears that Americans with insufficient insurance policies being outlawed under health reform wouldn’t have enough time to choose and pay for a new plan through Obamacare’s marketplaces due to technical woes.

While the federal site’s performance has improved — and continues to improve — markedly, several state-based marketplaces are still facing major problems. Officials fear that Oregon’s troubled web portal won’t be ready to re-launch until late January; the head of Hawaii’s marketplace stepped down at the end of November after the state’s site failed to launch completely at the beginning of October, and consumers in Vermont and Colorado have also reported problems while trying to enroll.

The Obama administration is also encouraging insurers to accept late and even partial premium payments for January coverage, to refill prescriptions that were covered under consumers’ older plans throughout January, and to treat out-of-network providers as if they were in-network in the case of severe illnesses and injuries for that month. Americans on a temporary Obamacare bridge program for the sickest patients will also be able to maintain their coverage — which was supposed to expire at the end of this month — through the end of January.