Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

December 24, 2013

Blue Cross extends deadline for off-market health plans

LANSING (AP) — The state’s largest health insurer on Monday gave some people an extra week to buy insurance in time for coverage that would kick in on Jan. 1, saying that roughly half of those purchasing plans on their own can skip enrollment on the government’s website.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan said the extension until Dec. 31 applies to consumers not qualifying for subsidized premiums on the federal insurance market. The “off-marketplace” plans are identical to those on www.healthcare.gov but only available to those making too much to receive tax credits.

The announcement came the same day the Obama administration extended by one day — until Tuesday — the deadline to sign up on the exchange for coverage that begins New Year’s Day. Open enrollment ends March 31.

The tax credits will make premiums more affordable for households earning between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty line. That’s about $11,500 to $46,000 for an individual, and roughly $23,500 to $94,000 for a family of four.

For those making more than that, “we can enroll you right away,” said Terry Burke, Blue Cross’ vice president for individual business. He added that consumers qualifying for premium subsidies who are interested in a Blue Cross plan can cut their call time in half by first registering at healthcare.gov.

Insurers reported a burst of calls in the days leading up to Monday, which had been the deadline for Americans in the 36 states served by the federal site to sign up if they wanted coverage that would start on Jan. 1.

Before the health care law’s existence, Blue Cross typically got 400 to 600 calls a day regarding plans sold to individuals, Burke said. In the last week, it averaged 7,800 per day.

Burke said the insurer is enrolling 3,000 to 5,000 customers per day in individual plans, both on and off the federal marketplace. It has more than 400 people staffed at a call center, an eight-fold increase in recent weeks, and planned to be open late Monday and on Christmas Eve.

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