Politics & Government

Tuesday deadline for buying insurance through state exchange may be extended for some consumers

The state deadline falls Tuesday afternoon for consumers wanting to renew policies or buy health insurance that takes effect Jan. 1, if they shop through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

But the exchange is reported to be preparing unspecified options for those whose payments or billings have gotten stuck in the online system or who have otherwise have had problems enrolling before the 4:59 p.m. sign-up deadline.

“It’s approximately 5 percent of about (100,000) customer accounts who are having issues related to billing and payments,” exchange spokeswoman Bethany Frey said in an email Monday. She said any announcement of a time extension would come closer to the actual deadline, because the exchange wants customers “to be primarily focused on the Dec. 23 deadline to get enrolled.”

Nearly 58,000 consumers had signed up for the first time or renewed coverage as of Dec. 11. Another 480,000 lined up government-paid Medicaid coverage either by using the online exchange or through automatic renewals, according to the exchange. Enrollments can take place past Tuesday for all consumers, but their coverage would not begin until later in 2015.

Both the governor’s health reform adviser, Bob Crittenden, and state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler say they have encouraged the exchange to act. If there is no extension, Kreidler said he is prepared to issue an emergency rule creating such an opportunity.

“It’s not an easy task to do this, but it’s the right thing to do. They have indicated they plan to do that,” Kreidler said. “I fully expect they are going to offer an opportunity to enrollees who can’t get through by 5 o’clock tomorrow.”

Kreidler, who serves on the exchange board as a non-voting member, used a larger estimate of problem accounts — between 6,000 and 12,000. He said there also have been reports that 15,000 to 20,000 accounts “were having problems with automatic renewal.”

As a result of payment and billing information failing to move fluidly between the exchange and insurers, the exchange board voted 4-3 on Thursday to turn the collection of premiums over to private insurers in the future, according to The Seattle Times.