STUMP » Articles » Obamacare Watch: 23 March 2014 -- Schrodinger's Deadline » 23 March 2014, 07:10

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Obamacare Watch: 23 March 2014 -- Schrodinger's Deadline  


23 March 2014, 07:10

So, supposedly the deadline for the first Obamacare open enrollment is coming to a close.

Originally, the deadline was supposed to be March 15 (in order to have things processed by April 1, when the individual mandate penalty/tax was to kick in). That was back in the heady pre-October 2013 days, before the disaster that was the exchanges became known.

I’m not going to even bother linking to proof of the above, because so much has changed (or rather, after-the-fact adjusted to make Obamacare seem less of a disaster than it is) that what we thought pre-October is more or less irrelevant.

Then the deadline got moved to March 31.

But let’s just wait for April Fool’s day

The White House hinted Friday that consumers who begin their ObamaCare enrollment before March 31 might be given a grace period to finish their applications.

“As was the case for the December deadline, we’re going to want to make sure that people who are already in line can finish their enrollment,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “But for how that process works, I would point you to what happened in December and how that played out.”

In December, the Obama administration gave consumers an additional day to finish signing up for their plans in order to secure coverage by Jan 1.

A representative for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency facilitating the federal exchange, said the grace period was offered to accommodate people from different time zones and to account for any technical problems the site might incur.

Traffic to the site rapidly increased ahead of the December deadline, increasing fivefold from the previous Monday. Administration officials are predicting a similar surge ahead in the final days of March.

If consumers don’t buy insurance on the exchange then, they’ll be unable to do so until enrollment reopens in November.

I understand the issue. Lots of people try to do things last minute, like with filing taxes. The difference is that with taxes you can actually file them a day late (you just have to pay a penalty).

But with Obamacare? There’s only some “life changes” that allow you to apply for coverage outside the open enrollment period.

I want you to think about the situation for a moment. People are being “required” to get coverage. They had a super-long open enrollment period this year, which is supposed to be much shorter in coming years. There are similar open enrollment lock-outs in programs like Medicare Part D, but the thing is, nobody is required to be in that program.

Let us compare to car insurance, that car owners are required to have (for liability purposes). You are required to have this coverage, but there is no particular time frame in which you are restricted from buying. You can already have coverage and go shopping at any moment to replace it. I’ve switched before, and it’s relatively easy to do.

You can do this because, get this, the insurers can underwrite based on how risky you are. And when you get new coverage, they don’t have to pay for damage caused in the time period before you were covered by them.

Amazing, I know.

There are lots of other differences with auto insurance, and I will come back to that in a future post.

The reason for restrictions on enrollment is because insurers no longer can underwrite based on risk (they get to price based on smoking status and age to a limited amount, but that’s not underwriting) and cannot exclude claims for pre-existing conditions. The idea is that if there weren’t restrictions, because the penalties are low relative to premiums (and they are), people would wait until they had a bad enough health condition and then buy coverage. And then the insurers would go into a death spiral.

Yes, I know it’s “all part of the plan” toward single-payer, but I don’t see it working out that way. For lots of reasons, some of which I can’t write about due to my day job (sorry, this blog ain’t paying me).

Two states have already announced deadline “adjustments”, Maryland and Nevada. Yes, they have their own state-based exchanges. Here’s the item about Maryland

Managers of Maryland’s public exchange are trying to give consumers as much time to enroll as possible without pushing back the March 31 deadline.

The board of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange has set up a telephone hotline at (800) 396-1961.

Consumers who start an application for individual “qualified health plan” coverage through the Maryland Health Connection enrollment website can let hotline reps know about their problems.

If consumers ask for help, the exchange will let them enroll in coverage that will take effect May 1, even though the applications will be completed after March 31.

And here’s Nevada

Members of the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange Board, the body that governs the Nevada Health Link exchange, voted Thursday to add a 60-day special enrollment period.

The special enrollment period would start March 31, at the end of the ordinary open enrollment period for individual “qualified health plan” coverage, and it would be open to anyone who tried to apply for QHP coverage before March 31 and gave up before selecting and paying for coverage.

Carriers have enrolled 22,000 consumers in individual health coverage through the Nevada exchange. Exchange managers said as many as 300,000 people may have started the application process and given up before choosing QHPs. Another 10,000 have chosen QHPs but have not yet paid the premiums.

Representatives from Xerox, the company running the exchange web and call center enrollment systems, recommended reducing enrollment system capacity strain by limiting access to the special enrollment period to consumers who have selected QHPs and have not yet paid for coverage.

More on the Nevada situation another time.

But get ready for the sob stories of people who were not able to enroll during the official period for very understandable reasons now being locked out after open enrollment.

And it won’t get much play outside of industry press, but I will be hearing lots more about insurance brokers hungry for any kind of business which will only get worse in upcoming years – for some reason, the next open enrollment is supposed to be from November 15, 2014 – Feb 15, 2015, but we’ll see how long that holds.


Election day this year: Tuesday, November 4

More on that timing tomorrow.


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