Health plans help with late enrollment

Companies offering policies in Louisiana through the Obamacare website are taking different approaches to extending deadlines that would provide coverage on Jan. 1.

Vantage Health is giving people until Tuesday to buy health care policies through the federal marketplace and still have coverage in place as of Jan. 1.

The official enrollment deadline was Dec. 23.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, the state’s largest health insurer, did not extend the enrollment date.

“We would have preferred to do that but could not given the limitations of HealthCare.gov,” Blue Cross spokesman John Maginnis said.

Louisiana Health Cooperative had extended enrollment until Dec. 24 but is now enrolling people for coverage beginning Feb. 1.

“We understand there are people still out there trying to get enrolled. We know there have been problems with the website (HealthCare.gov),” said Vantage spokesman Billy Justice. “We know that some people have not even moved to do anything. So we decided to go ahead and extend the deadline.”

Vantage members enrolling by Tuesday will be required to pay their first month’s premium by Jan. 15, Justice said. If the payment is made after that, the coverage date will roll forward to Feb. 1.

The federal online marketplace’s enrollment system doesn’t allow the effective date of the policies to be changed, Maginnis said. So Blue Cross would have had to call each person who enrolled after Dec. 23 and ask if they wanted their coverage to begin on Jan. 1 or at a later date.

Trying to get in touch with everyone who enrolled just wasn’t feasible, he said.

Louisiana Health Cooperative spokesman Jim Pittman said it’s important to remember that the open-enrollment period ends March 31, which means individuals and families still have 95 days to enroll.

“I would encourage them to consult with a licensed health insurance agent where possible,” Pittman said.

An agent can help consumers learn more about what coverage options are available, he said.

Meanwhile, people who tried to enroll through HealthCare.gov by Dec. 23 but could not because of problems with the website may still be able to get coverage starting Jan. 1, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Roughly 2 million visitors hit the federal online enrollment system, known as the Health Insurance Exchange or Marketplace, on Tuesday, while government call centers handled more than 250,000 calls. It’s unclear how many of the last-minute enrollment efforts succeeded.

Maginnis said Blue Cross is working with people who couldn’t make the enrollment deadline because of problems with HealthCare.gov.

Blue Cross is also giving people who buy policies that aren’t offered on HealthCare.gov, coverage known as “off Exchange,” until Dec. 31 to buy coverage that begins Jan. 1.

Vantage is also beginning coverage Jan. 1 for consumers who buy directly from the company by Dec. 31. Coverage for consumers who enroll after Dec. 31 will begin on Feb. 1, Justice said.