If an Obamacare-quality policy is for you, now's the time to decide.
People wanting coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act must pay their first month's premium by Dec. 31 if they want coverage by Jan. 1.
This first year, open enrollment extends to March 31. But waiting until just before the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline means a bigger chance you'd miss the payment and not have coverage on Jan. 1.
“We really are encouraging people to sit down and make that decision sooner rather than later so that they don't run into a time crunch at the end of the month,” said Tom Gilsdorf, director of product development for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska.
“Time is a little more of the essence now than it was in October,” said Leigh McGivern, a spokeswoman for CoOportunity Health of Des Moines.
People renewing policies have more flexibility. They can renew now and switch to a policy that includes the “essential health benefits” of Obamacare by March 31 or wait until next year's open enrollment.
That bit of advice aside, an increasing number of people in Nebraska and Iowa are making those decisions, including many who will face monthly premium increases of up to 16 percent to keep their same coverage.
Cliff Gold, chief operating officer for CoOportunity, said this was the company's biggest signup week so far, with three days exceeding 500 new policies each. The company now has about 5,000 members in Nebraska and 1,000 in Iowa.
This was the first week that more people enrolled at HealthCare.gov than on the company's website, Gold said. “That tells us the website's working much better.”
Blue Cross declined to say how many people have signed up for policies on the federal marketplace or the company's website. The company has about 46,000 individual policies covering 88,000 people. Gilsdorf estimated that more than half would renew their policies.
Blue Cross received 800 calls on Monday and more than 1,000 written responses one day this week from people who want to renew their 2013 policies, a new option offered recently.
That's despite an automatic age-related premium increase in January and a second increase “not to exceed” 16 percent to be added in February.
In addition, more than 200 people a day who are either uninsured or customers of other insurance companies are calling Blue Cross, said sales manager Matt Leonard.
Clients using HealthCare.gov have been completing the process in 30 minutes or less, Blue Cross spokesman Andy Williams said.
Blue Cross is still having some problems processing applications that come from the federal website, but Gilsdorf said the volume is picking up, applications are moving faster and the Department of Health and Human Services is working to resolve the problems.
Gold, from CoOportunity, said the company is not having problems beyond routine mistakes that can be cleaned up easily and are no different from other electronic data transfers.
In any case, Gilsdorf said, “It is absolutely not too late for anybody to get into a Jan. 1 date” for coverage. “If they haven't been on the website in a while, try and get on again.”