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Life Health > Health Insurance > Health Insurance

PPACA open enrollment extension ends

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(Bloomberg) — For Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) procrastinators, time’s up.

Yesterday was the last day of a two-week open enrollment period extension for hundreds of thousands of people who failed to choose individual “qualified health plans” by March 31.

March 31 was supposed to be the deadline for consumers who wanted to sign up for individual QHP coverage for on a fully guaranteed-issue basis.

The Obama administration announced a two-week extension March 25. Officials said they would make the extension available to any consumers who said they had technical problems or other problems that kept them from finishing the enrollment process on time.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent e-mail reminders yesterday to people who had created accounts on without completing their enrollment.

“This is your final chance to get 2014 coverage,” the e-mails said.

Starting today, Americans can sign up for QHPs through the exchanges only if they experience a life-changing event such as marriage, the birth of a child or the loss of a job, or if they get a hardship exemption for some other reason.

The enrollment period for 2015 individual QHPs begins Nov. 15.

The individual QHP enrollment schedule does not affect Medicaid, group coverage or temporary individual health insurance.

Regulators and insurance companies developed the individual QHP enrollment schedule to try to keep consumers from waiting until they get sick to pay for coverage.

In practice, because of efforts to limit antiselection throughout the individual health insurance market, the QHP enrollment schedule now affects sales of most ordinary individual major medical coverage.

About 7.5 million people had picked QHP plans by April 10, according to outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Before Oct. 1, when the QHP open enrollment period started, the Congressional Budget Office had estimated the QHPs would attract 7 million enrollees by the end of 2014.

HHS had been using an estimate of 4.3 million enrollees in its own paperwork burden analyses.

Will many consumers with applications still in the pipeline get shut out of QHP coverage by the April 15 enrollment deadline?

Groups helping with enrollment said they didn’t expect many of their customers to be left without coverage.

“Nobody’s been left out here,” said Tim McKinney, president and CEO of the United Way of Tarrant County, in Fort Worth, Texas.

His organization leads a collaboration of navigator groups covering 212 of the state’s 254 counties. They assisted more than 30,000 people during the enrollment period and signed up 5,500 of them, he said.

There are some signs that QHP issuers may have made substantial enrollment gains during the extension period.

The Legal Aid Society in Palm Beach County, Fla., has been acting as a public exchange navigator.

The society’s offices have been packed, according to John Foley, a supervising attorney at the society. “We’ve been doing better the last 15 days” than in days leading up to the March 31 deadline, he said.

Alexis Aquino, of Lake Worth, Florida, said she signed up yesterday after seeing a sign promoting the law with a phone number for Foley’s group.

Aquino, 30, who works at a jewelry store, said she wasn’t aware of the March 31 deadline and hadn’t previously tried to sign up for health coverage.

Aquino said she had been an actor and uninsured for “many years,” and wasn’t very familiar with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). “Now that I’m trying to get back on my feet it’s kind of like, OK, you need to get health insurance,” she said in a phone interview.

Aquino said she considers herself healthy and previously paid for doctors’ appointments out-of-pocket. She chose a plan from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida for $31 a month, after subsidies.

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