You may have extra time to buy health insurance

Consumer Reports

Q. I applied for insurance on my state marketplace and was told I qualify for Medicaid. But it has been over a month and I have not heard anything further about this. What should I do?

Q. I e-mailed a copy of an identity document to HealthCare.gov and never heard back. I’m trying to get this done before the deadline but every time I call they say there’s nothing they can do.

A. You can both stop worrying. On Wednesday the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the health care law, said that anyone who applies for coverage by the end of open enrollment on March 31, but has run into delays or glitches, will be allowed to sign up for health insurance even after the open enrollment period ends for the year.

“We won’t close the door on those who tried to get covered and were unable to do so through no fault of their own,” said  spokeswoman Julie Bataille in a call with reporters.

Bataille said the day before, HealthCare.gov had 1.2 million visitors, at or near a record high, and more than a half million calls, another record, from people trying to beat the deadline.

This does NOT mean you can start shopping for coverage for the first time after March 31, Bataille emphasized. The relaxed deadline only applies to those who started the process before midnight March 31.

Some particulars:

You can leave your email if the website gets overwhelmed. There’s an automatic queueing system that kicks in when volume exceeds HealthCare.gov’s capacity of 100,000 concurrent users. You’ll be given the option of waiting your turn in a “virtual waiting room” or leaving an e-mail to be invited back when things aren’t as busy.

There will also be a queue for the call center.  If you don’t want to sit on hold, you can leave a callback number.

After March 31, you’ll have to verify that you started the process earlier. When you go back to your application, you’ll see a new box to check off attesting that you started the process earlier. Apparently this will be done on the honor system.

If you have been stuck for a while, wait until after the deadline crush has passed. For instance if you haven’t heard back about the ID documents you uploaded, or the fate of your Medicaid enrollment, you can now be confident you won’t be penalized for missing the deadline. But given the crush of procrastinators thronging HealthCare.gov to file applications for the first time, it makes sense to wait until April 1 to contact your marketplace’s call center to untangle your own mess.

But try to get resolution by April 15. If you enroll before then, your new coverage will start on May 1.

If you’re waiting on Medicaid, there’s lots more you need to know.  But it’s complicated. Look for a followup post in this space tomorrow.

Got a question for our health insurance expert? Ask it here; be sure to include the state you live in. And if you can't get enough health insurance news here, follow me on Twitter @NancyMetcalf.

—Nancy Metcalf

We're providing regular coverage of the new health care law. To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper, below.



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