Independent insurance agents and brokers aren’t jumping for joy at the US Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to extend the deadline to purchase health insurance for shoppers who began, but did not complete, the process by March 31.
Monday’s deadline was meant to be a line in the sand following a series of delayed, expanded and canceled deadlines in the rollout of President Obama’s signature healthcare law. Now, customers who tried to apply for insurance but were not successful by Monday’s deadline will have until mid-April to complete the process.
The delay was first leaked to the Washington Post Tuesday night and later confirmed Wednesday morning in response to a media request from the New York Times.
Federal officials have not clarified exactly how long the special enrollment period will be available, but already, producers are protesting that the extension is not needed.
“I could see how you’d want to give a little bit of leeway for people who try to buy insurance during the last week. A ton of people who waited until the very last minute will warm in and the system will be so overwhelmed it will fail,” said Kelly Fristoe of Texas-based Financial Partners. “But really, you’ve had six months, people. If you’re going to wait that long, there’s going to be consequences.”
Neil Crosby, a spokesman for the National Association of Health Underwriters, was more measured in his comments but nevertheless expressed the same sentiment.
“There’s been six full months. I think the agents feel that’s plenty of time, and that they’ve made themselves plenty available,” Crosby stressed.
HHS cited HealthCare.gov’s poor performance as the reason for the delay. However, Crosby noted that while there have been “plenty of times where HealthCare.gov hasn’t worked properly,” those days are long passed.
“People have been successfully enrolling for months,” he said.
The federal exchange is not the only site to stay open to customers for another few weeks. In Nevada, Maryland and Minnesota, marketplace officials have announced extensions of up to 60 days in order to compensate for continuing technical glitches.
In these cases, however, producers are generally pleased with the extensions.
“It’s such a long, laborious process and I experience errors every day, all day long,” said Las Vegas agency owner Larry Harrison, who has been struggling with the Xerox-built Nevada Health Link. “I absolutely think [extending the deadline] is the right thing to do. Here these people are doing their best to stay in compliance, and if Xerox was too inept to put together a workable system, they should have an extra few days to get coverage.”
Officials in Massachusetts, Vermont and Oregon are also said to be considering a deadline extension to accommodate late-stage demand.
Even if residents in these states aren’t granted a special enrollment period, many will still have the opportunity to sign up between open enrollment dates this year. Qualifying circumstances such as an out-of-state move, a change in income or a change in employment will allow producers to assist clients through the exchanges, regardless of the date.
Until then, however, the majority of producers remain unhappy.