Feds extend health care sign up by one day

December 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
The Obama administration pushed back the government health care enrollment deadline to Dec. 24, giving consumers one more day to sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1. Officials say the extensions will also help HealthCare.gov deal with the last-minute surge. Gwen Ifill talks to Alex Wayne of Bloomberg News.
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GWEN IFILL: Tonight, we get the latest on the health care exchanges and why the Obama administration is giving people another day to sign up. The deadline for new coverage that would take effect on January 1 was supposed to be midnight tonight, but the administration quietly pushed it back. That decision came as White House officials announced President Obama has himself signed up for a health plan.

Alex Wayne covers health care for Bloomberg News, and he joins us now.

So, what is the real reason that this is being pushed back, Alex?

ALEX WAYNE, Bloomberg News: Sure.

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Well, the website the federal government has to sell insurance to people who need it saw more than a million visitors just today. And a lot of those visitors probably ran into the same screen that I ran into when I tried it a few times throughout the day, which was basically a holding screen that said very politely, look, we have too much traffic right now. Please wait until there’s less traffic. And if you would give us an e-mail address, we will send you an e-mail in a few hours and you can come back when traffic subsides and sign up.

They don’t want these people to go away without coverage. They want to make sure that all those people get the coverage they came to the website expecting to sign for. And so they are giving really everybody in the country another day, not just the folks who visit today.

GWEN IFILL: So as long as you were there today and as long as you registered and got this — signed up for this e-mail…

ALEX WAYNE: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: … you get coverage — you are covered? At least you are under the deadline?

ALEX WAYNE: If you visited today and you signed up for this e-mail, you definitely will get coverage. If you wait until tomorrow to sign up, you might also still get coverage.

The administration wouldn’t rule out the possibility that people who show up tomorrow for the first time will have coverage starting January 1.

GWEN IFILL: But they’re trying to discourage the procrastinators who might just wait until tomorrow?

(CROSSTALK)

ALEX WAYNE: They would really like you to show up today. And I would suggest anybody who needs coverage on January 1, go to the site today just to make sure.

GWEN IFILL: So it seems like there have been a lot of delays.

ALEX WAYNE: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: How many have there been?

ALEX WAYNE: I was looking back at my coverage earlier today. And I have written at least nine or 10 pretty major provisions that have been delayed or extended, ranging from things like the requirement that all employers provide insurance to their workers. That’s delayed for a year.

Just last week, they said that people who have received letters from their insurers canceling their plans effective at the end of the year, those people will be exempt from the individual mandate, the requirement that you carry insurance starting in 2014. So there has been quite a few.

GWEN IFILL: Now, theoretically, this is good for people trying to sign up late or who were caught up in the glitches or bigger than glitches on the website.

ALEX WAYNE: Right.

GWEN IFILL: But what about insurance companies? How are they taking this, because this involves changing the plans, doesn’t it?

ALEX WAYNE: Sure. I think they’re just sort of hanging on tight and waiting for the ride to end right now.

They have said that they will do a few things the administration has asked them to do. For example, they’re letting people pay late. If you sign up now, you don’t have to pay for your plan until January 10 with most companies and most parts of the country.

But they have balked at doing a few things, including allowing people to sign up retroactively. Say you wait until January 10 and you get sick or you get in a car accident or something. They’re not going to let you sign up for coverage that is effective that day or on January 1.

GWEN IFILL: Now, the White House told us today that the president signed up for the health care exchange.

ALEX WAYNE: Right.

GWEN IFILL: Why did he need to do that?

ALEX WAYNE: Yes, he doesn’t need to do it. He’s got very good health coverage through the military, actually. So, he had two choices.

He could not sign up for a plan and be accused of staying out of the program that has come to carry his own name. Or he could sign up for one and take a little teasing, maybe, that he’s buying coverage that he doesn’t need. So he chose to do that. He’s the president of the United States. I think can take a little teasing.

GWEN IFILL: Does that mean that he personally went on the website and signed up?

ALEX WAYNE: No, not at all. The president is in Hawaii. He’s on vacation, I think, as has been reported. And so he had a White House staff person sign up for him.

GWEN IFILL: In person, I read somewhere.

ALEX WAYNE: Yes, that’s what we reported as well.

(LAUGHTER)

GWEN IFILL: Well, tell me, if you’re watching this and you are watching all of the stumbles and the stutter steps along the way, what — what assurance do most Americans have that January 1, which is a little over a week away, even they have registered, they have done everything right, there is actually going to be coverage?

ALEX WAYNE: Well, you should definitely call your insurer. If you signed up, call your insurer and make sure your coverage is effective. If you have gotten a bill from your insurer or, better yet, even, an insurance card, you definitely have coverage.

But if you have gotten a bill, pay that bill and then you will definitely have coverage on January 1.

(CROSSTALK)

GWEN IFILL: Go ahead.

ALEX WAYNE: If you look at this from the administration’s perspective or from the perspective of their allies, it may look like a mess right now. There’s a lot of negative news coverage about all these delays and extensions.

From the administration’s perspective, they’re doing all these things because they want to do everything possible to make sure that January 1 proceeds smoothly, that people who need insurance have it, that people who need to see a doctor or go to a hospital are able to do that. They don’t really care too much about the controversy over these delays and extensions as long as things work out when the coverage begins.

GWEN IFILL: So that is the next deadline that you’re watching?

ALEX WAYNE: January 1. That’s when people will be able to start using their new insurance cards.

Now, I don’t expect people to show up at doctor’s offices on New Year’s Day, but maybe at emergency rooms, pharmacies. And then, on January 2, certainly, people are going to start trying to use this — new coverage.

GWEN IFILL: And the real test kicks in.

ALEX WAYNE: That’s right.

GWEN IFILL: Alex Wayne of Bloomberg News, thank you.

ALEX WAYNE: Thank you.