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Some health insurers are still selling individual coverage

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(Bloomberg) — Insurers in at least 14 states will let consumers who missed the March 31 individual health insurance open enrollment deadline sign up for coverage in April, according to eHealth Inc. (Nasdaq:EHTH).

At least one health insurer in 14 states has been continuing to enroll consumers past the deadline, according to Nate Purpura, an eHealth spokesman.

Some consumers may have to say they started their applications before March 31 open enrollment deadline, but others may not have to do that, eHealth said.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) now requires insurers to sell new individual coverage on a guaranteed-issue basis. The only personal health information the insurers can use when pricing the coverage is age. Federal and state regulators created the open enrollment calendar to discourage consumers from waiting until they get sick to pay for coverage.

But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has given consumers who say they started applications for commercial “qualified health plan” (QHP) coverage at the exchanges until April 15 to complete the applications.

Officials and the QHP issuers are hoping extending the deadline will help the QHPs attract more healthy young customers.

Some states-run exchanges have created “special enrollment periods” that let many or all residents complete applications after March 31.

Some insurers, including Health Net, are offering similar deadline extensions outside the exchange system.

“We want to make it easy for consumers to purchase insurance, whether it’s on or off the exchange,” Health Net spokesman Brad Kieffer said by telephone. “We’re just making our off-exchange deadlines consistent with what’s taking place on the exchange.”

Health Net has extended the off-exchange enrollment deadline to April 15 for consumers in Arizona and California, and to April 30 in Oregon.

Consumers can use the extension even if they started to fill out applications after March 31, Kieffer said.

Some health insurers sell individual coverage both inside and outside the public exchange system, and some sell individual coverage only outside the public exchange system.

The number of people who have enrolled for individual coverage outside the public exchange system is not yet available.

Some organizations including nonprofit think tank Rand Corp. are working on efforts to measure off-exchange health coverage enrollment.

There are signs the off-exchange enrollees may be lower risk than the exchange plan enrollees.

At eHealth – a major seller of health coverage outside the public exchange system – the average age of buyers dropped to 36 at the end of March, from 44 in mid-October, according to company figures.

About 51 percent of the eHealth enrollees were previously uninsured, Purpura said.

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