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Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, before a congressional committee.

New York Times,

There's still confusion as Monday health enrollment deadline nears

  • Article by: Robert Pear
  • New York Times
  • December 21, 2013 - 6:22 PM

 

– For most Americans, Monday is the deadline to sign up for health coverage that takes effect Jan. 1.

It was supposed to be a turning point — the moment when the spotlight would shift from the federal government’s online marketplace to the insurance companies providing coverage to hundreds of thousands and eventually millions of people.

But as the date approaches, decisions by the Obama administration to delay some of the law’s provisions and to extend some deadlines have caused uncertainty among insurers and confusion for consumers.

Already the enrollment of young adults appears to be lagging behind expectations. And insurers, struggling with problems caused by the chaotic debut of the insurance exchange in October, have criticized the administration’s last-minute changes, saying they could cause market instability.

The sudden shifts have sent a mixed message to consumers about the significance of the Monday deadline. They reduce the sense of urgency but not the need for coverage. Federal and state officials said they were prepared for an increase in activity.

“The Dec. 23 deadline is a huge milestone on the way to coverage that will provide relief and hope to a lot of people,” said Andrea J. Routh, executive director of the Missouri Health Advocacy Alliance, a consumer group.

Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the agency was adding staff, training and outreach efforts across the country. “People tend to have questions and act when they come up against deadlines,” she said.

President Obama said Friday that “more than 1 million Americans have selected new health insurance plans through the federal and state marketplaces” since they opened Oct. 1. The administration had hoped that 3.3 million would sign up by the end of this month.

States running their own exchanges, including California, Connecticut, Kentucky and New York, said they saw a surge in demand in the last few weeks.

“Momentum is growing,” said Peter V. Lee, the executive director of the California insurance exchange.

Kevin J. Counihan, the chief executive of the Connecticut exchange, said that calls had tripled in the last three weeks. “We are really bracing for Monday,” he said.

Early data suggest that people age 55 to 64 are overrepresented and those younger than 35 are underrepresented. In Colorado, 43 percent of people signing up for private plans in the first months were in the 55-to-64 age bracket.

In Connecticut, Rhode Island and Washington, the share was 40 percent. Nationally, about 12 percent of the population is 55 to 64.

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