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December 27 2013

Patchwork Nation

Patrice J. Lee

January 6, January 7, January 15. If these seem like arbitrary dates, it’s because they are, and they represent the patchwork of ObamaCare enrollment deadlines across the country.

We’ve reported on the shifting enrollment deadlines for the federal ObamaCare exchange, which went from mid-December to December 23 to Christmas Eve. Americans who want coverage to begin on New Year’s Day theoretically needed to submit their applications by the time Santa Clause pulled his sleigh out of the North Pole. Although—as we now know—even that deadline is flexible thanks to the Administration’s sneaky, last-minute rule changes.

However, submitting an application is only step 1 in the enrollment process. After crossing your fingers and hoping that your application doesn’t transmit to the health insurance provider as a garbled mess, you still have to pay for your first month’s premium. That payment deadline has been more flexible, but payment is key in actually having coverage begin (though the administration has begun to fiddle with the payment scheduling, too).

And if you choose a state-run exchanges instead of using the federal system? You’re not alone if you are finding that confusing, too.

Fox News reports:

After appeals from the Obama administration, major health insurers announced earlier this month that they would give people until Jan. 10 -- as opposed to Dec. 31 -- to pay their first month's premium and have coverage effective Jan. 1. 

But many states running their own exchanges have their own deadlines for first payments. Some have more than one. 

In Idaho, for instance, Blue Cross, Bridgespan, and Select Health extended their deadline to Jan. 10. But PacificSource extended its deadline to Jan. 15. The deadlines in Washington, D.C., also depend on the insurer. 

Other deadlines are earlier. California's and Rhode Island's is Jan. 6. Vermont's is Jan. 7. 

The following states all have Jan. 10 deadlines: Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York. 

The following states have Jan. 15 deadlines: Maryland, Oregon and Washington state. 

Powers said the patchwork could create a real problem. 

"There's a danger that people will misunderstand and think that their ... state or their exchange has extended it to Jan. 10 when in fact a lot of the state exchanges haven't done that," she said, urging those trying to get insurance to "get on top of it immediately." 

Beyond being another embarrassment for the Administration, the shifting enrollment deadlines pose other problems for the President’s signature legislation: eroding confidence in the President and his Administration, demonstrating the failure of government to execute sweeping takeovers of industry, and undermining average Americans’ faith in the (federal) government to effectively and effectively solve their problems. The shifting deadlines also create huge administrative and financial burdens that the healthcare industry must now face:

“If the launch had gone properly in October, we would not have been put between one rock and one gigantic hard place,” says David Oscar, communications chair of the New Jersey Association of Health Underwriters. “All the rules that are coming out last-minute are unfair to both the consumer and the carrier.”

Insurance workers know that the past weeks have been a matter of "grin and bear it." Like the Obamacare administration, the industry wants to enroll as many people as possible to avoid the specter of skyrocketing premiums next year. But for providers that have had to cope with the White House's shifting enrollment guidelines and goal posts, recent days have been an unwelcome reminder of how much depends on them, and how little time they have to get it right.

While deadlines don’t seem to be a big deal for an administration that makes it up as it goes, deadlines do matter for the the health insurance industry. Insurers can’t do their job effectively if the Administration keeps arbitrarily making adjustments to deadlines and requirements in hopes of making itself look better in the eyes of the public.

Enrollment in ObamaCare remains relatively low and—we can guess—skews toward the old and sick. That worries the President, but he needs to face the truth. American’s overwhelmingly still don’t see ObamaCare as beneficial enough for them to enroll. Only 35 percent of the public approves of the law. Deadline extensions only buys time, it doesn’t buy votes or win hearts.

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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