By Elise Viebeck - 12/18/13 01:45 PM EST
Health insurance companies are giving ObamaCare policyholders more time to pay their first premiums after the Obama administration urged the move as a way to mitigate problems and confusion with the new exchanges.
Consumers who select their health plans by Dec. 23 will now have coverage effective Jan. 1 as long as they pay their premiums by Jan. 10.
Trade association America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) said the voluntary move responds to problems at HealthCare.gov — the troubled federal enrollment website — and helps to ensure consumers do not experience a gap in coverage.
"Our community is taking an important step to give consumers greater peace of mind about their healthcare coverage," AHIP President Karen Ignagni said in a statement.
AHIP represents the vast majority of U.S. health insurers, including most national carriers.
Continued problems with HealthCare.gov threaten to derail consumers who want coverage that takes effect on New Year's Day.
For months, the enrollment site has sent incorrect or garbled information to insurers on behalf of people who selected health plans.
The issue has been largely fixed, according to federal health officials, but still requires the administration to reconcile enrollments with insurance companies to ensure consumers don't encounter trouble using their plans.
Insurers say the paperwork, called "834" forms, is still arriving with problems.
The Obama administration has repeatedly extended deadlines related to the Jan. 1 effective date for some ObamaCare plans as consumers and insurers report complications with enrollment.
In an announcement last week, federal health officials stated that insurers would be required to accept payments made through Dec. 31 for plans set to begin Jan. 1.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted that insurance companies had discretion to extend the deadline further into the month of January, heralding Wednesday's announcement by AHIP.
Consumers will still have to select policies by Dec. 23 in order for them to take effect Jan. 1.
While reaction to AHIP's move was initially muted, Republicans criticized last week's deadline extension by HHS as an indication of major problems with ObamaCare's rollout.
"It's clear the administration knows ObamaCare's problems are only going to get worse, and patients will be the ones who suffer,” said Rory Cooper, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
"What's not clear is whether they understand the confusion and chaos they continue to cause."