(Bloomberg) — Two of the largest U.S. health carriers are giving Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) customers more time to pay their initial premiums as the industry tries to coax millions of people to take the final step in cementing coverage for 2014.
WellPoint Inc., the country’s second-biggest health carrier, said it’s allowing consumers until Jan. 15 to pay, five extra days than planned. Health Care Service Corp., which runs Blue Cross plans in Texas, Illinois and three other states, extended its deadline to Jan. 30, saying it wanted to avoid confusion.
Insurers and the Obama administration have repeatedly moved deadlines, relaxed sign-up rules and made other concessions to smooth the process for people who are getting new health coverage this year as part of PPACA. The industry had already pushed back the premium deadline from late December until Jan. 10, following website outages that depressed sign-ups last year.
“Our goal is to ensure our members can access their benefits as early as possible in 2014,” Kristin Binns, a spokeswoman for Indianapolis-based WellPoint, said in an email. “To make that happen and to accommodate the late December application surge we will not be rejecting any January policies where payment has been received by Jan. 15.”
About 2.1 million people enrolled in private medical plans through PPACA’s government-run insurance exchanges. Most of the sign-ups came in December as the online marketplaces rebounded from software flaws that hobbled their October debut.
The effort to get people to pay their premiums suggests the enrollment figures may end up lower than the initial report, said Dan Schuyler of Leavitt Partners, a Salt Lake City-based consultant to state-run exchanges.
“In the end, the only number that’s relevant is the number of consumers who have picked a plan and paid, and I think it’s too early to prognosticate on what that’s going to look like,” he said in a telephone interview.
For most Americans, March 31 is the final deadline to enroll in an exchange health plan for this year.