Grace period given for health sign-ups

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WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest health insurance industry trade group announced Wednesday that consumers, frustrated by technical problems with federal and state health insurance marketplaces, will get more time to pay for individual coverage that begins Jan. 1.

The board of directors of America's Health Insurance Plans said consumers who select an individual health plan by Monday will now have until Jan. 10 to make their first month's premium payment for retroactive coverage that begins on Jan. 1, 2014. The previous payment deadline for Jan. 1 coverage was Dec. 31.

The one-time voluntary payment deadline change will prevent potential coverage gaps that could arise as people switch plans and work through enrollment delays. Technical woes on state health insurance marketplaces and the website, which serves as the portal for the federal marketplace, have led to numerous problems for consumers trying to enroll in policies.

Karen Ignagni, the insurance group's president and CEO, said insurers are "taking an important step to give consumers greater peace of mind about their health care coverage." The group's members cover more than 200 million Americans through job-based, individual and public coverage programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Wednesday's announcement follows a request last week by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for a more flexible payment schedule.

Insurers and HHS are already trying to confirm enrollments of several hundred thousand who thought they had coverage from as of New Year's Day. Many daily enrollment reports the federal marketplace sent to insurers contained errors and omissions that jeopardized consumers' Jan. 1 coverage status.

The extended payment deadline will help those whose coverage may have been compromised by the process. The Obama administration urges all consumers to verify their marketplace coverage enrollments by contacting their insurers directly.

President Barack Obama has enlisted his popular wife, first lady Michelle Obama, to help get young Americans to sign up for coverage. The couple spoke to moms in the Oval Office.

"There's something about moms," Mr. Obama said. He said they have credibility, often make family health care decisions and "can tell young people who think they're invincible that they're not and prod them to at least get information."

Associated Press contributed.


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