By Jonathan Easley - 12/12/13 04:15 PM EST
The Obama administration on Thursday pushed back the deadline for consumers to make their first payment for coverage under the healthcare law.
In a conference call with reporters, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said insurers have the latitude to accept premiums even beyond Dec. 31, and that the administration was “strongly encouraging” them to retroactively cover consumers that submit late payments.
In addition to the one-week extension for premium payments, the administration on Thursday formalized its announcement that consumers have until Dec. 23, instead of Dec. 15, to sign-up for healthcare coverage that goes into affect Jan. 1.
Thursday’s announcement is the latest in a string of unilateral delays the administration has implemented to buy time after the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov.
In addition to delaying the premium payments deadline, the administration has delayed by one week the sign-up date for coverage beginning Jan. 1, pushed back by six weeks the sign-up date for those seeking coverage by April 1, and delayed the second-year enrollment period until after the 2014 elections.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) office said the administration is sowing “confusion and chaos” with the changes.
"It's clear the administration knows Obamacare's problems are only going to get worse, and patients will be the ones who suffer,” said Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper. “What's not clear is whether they understand the confusion and chaos they continue to cause.”
The administration said Thursday it was working with insurers to be as flexible as possible on a range of other issues surrounding the law, like treating out-of-network providers as in-network, and refilling prescriptions covered under previous plans through January.
HHS policy director Chiquita Brooks-Lasure said on the call that the administration was optimistic that many insurers would adopt those suggestions.
The Obama administration has been under pressure from lawmakers to guarantee that those who sign-up for coverage have the health insurance they believe they’ve purchased by Jan. 1.
The administration for the first time on Thursday touted a “special enrollment period” for applicants that have experienced technical difficulties. Brooks-Lasure said it was not a new initiative, but the administration hasn’t actively pushed it as a workaround for consumers having problems with the website.
White House press secretary Jay Carney, for example, has been pressed about whether the administration can guarantee coverage to ObamaCare enrollees, but hast yet to mention the special enrollment period.
Federal officials are encouraging consumers to call their insurance providers to confirm their enrollments.
The delay of the premium payments deadline will also affect the monthly enrollment data the administration releases.
HHS this week said about 260,000 people picked out private health plans under ObamaCare in November, bringing the total number of enrollments to about 365,000
But those numbers include those who haven’t yet made a payment. Republicans have challenged Sebelius to break down the enrollment numbers to show how many people have paid for their coverage.
Sebelius had pledged that HHS would provide a breakdown between those who have paid and those who have selected a plan before the end of the year, but the release of that data seems unlikely with the new Dec. 31 deadline.
— This story was updated at 4:36 p.m. and 5:11 p.m.