HELENA – As the deadline approaches for consumers to get health coverage through the “Obamacare” online marketplace in Montana, insurers here say they’re giving customers until mid-January to make their first payment.
“We’re getting so many calls and so many people signing up at the last minute, that’s the least we can do to accommodate those people,” said Jerry Dworak, CEO of the Montana Health Co-op, one of three insurers selling polices on the marketplace.
The deadline is Monday for consumers to buy policies for coverage that starts Jan. 1, and customers are expected to pay their first premium before they can be ensured of having coverage.
Yet the Co-op and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana said this week they’ll give people until Jan. 10 to pay their first premium, but still make the coverage retroactive to Jan. 1.
PacificSource, the third company selling policies on the marketplace in Montana, will be giving customers until Jan. 15 to settle their first payment, said Todd Lovshin, Montana manager for the Oregon-based company.
“We’re creating some flexibility in our processes so people can get on board, get their policy and give them some breathing room,” he said.
The extended payment deadlines come as thousands of Montanans attempt to use the federally run website healthcare.gov to sign up for individual health insurance policies – and as the website, while improved, continues to have technical problems.
Insurers say they’re not always getting complete data on customers who’ve signed up for coverage, and state officials and consumer counselors, or “navigators,” say other problems persist.
For example, some consumers who signed up for a marketplace account soon after it launched Oct. 1 may still be stuck in a technological “black hole” and need additional help to complete the process, said Adam Schafer, deputy insurance commissioner for Montana.
“We are hearing reports that the marketplace is getting better,” he said. “But the big concern is that is becomes a functioning website that people have confidence in.”
Schafer said if consumers believe they’ve successfully signed up for a policy through the marketplace, but haven’t received confirmation from the company within a few days, they should call the company to make sure their application is being processed.
All of the insurers said if people have any doubts about a policy they bought on the marketplace, they should check directly with the company.
“We will do everything in our power to assist our (customers) through the transition,” said John Doran, director of strategic marketing services for Blue Cross.
Lovshin said data that PacificSource is getting from the marketplace are getting “better and better,” and that the company is in constant communication with the federal government to reconcile the information. “We’re finding very few discrepancies,” he said.
Still, Dworak said the Co-op is getting many calls from people who’ve said they signed up for a policy through the marketplace, but their records have not yet arrived via the marketplace. He counseled consumers to have patience with the system.
“It’s exactly what we thought: Everyone waiting until the last minute (to sign up), which creates a bottleneck,” he said. “Our job is to try to get them insured.”