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Some Obamacare shoppers can pay January 10 for January 1 coverage

Cathey Park of Cambridge, Massachusetts shows her cast signed by U.S. President Barack Obama after he spoke about health insurance at Faneui
Cathey Park of Cambridge, Massachusetts shows her cast signed by U.S. President Barack Obama after he spoke about health insurance at Faneui

(Reuters) - Individuals who select their health insurance plan on the exchanges set up under the national healthcare reform law by the December 23 deadline will have until January 10 to pay and still receive coverage as of January 1, 2014, the nation's largest organization of insurers said on Wednesday.

Some insurers had already announced similar moves individually, but now plans selling insurance on either the state or federal exchanges will voluntarily honor the delayed payment schedule, America's Health Insurance Plans said in a statement.

But some state-based exchanges said they are not adopting the timeline, which could create confusion for consumers who must pay insurers to be covered. Many individuals will receive government subsidies to help offset the cost of insurance sold on the exchanges, but they still must pay the balance.

"Healthcare is local. The arrangements are local. The delivery is local. The payment is local ... Consumers in California need to have paid by January 6th," Peter Lee, Executive Director of Covered California said during a conference call with journalists.

Connecticut, which had moved its payment date to January 7 for some shoppers, also said that it was sticking to its due dates, saying that the changing information, rules and policies are confusing and a challenge for consumers.

Under the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, individuals must buy health insurance for 2014 or pay a fine. But shoppers have been hindered by massive technology problems on the federal website HealthCare.gov, which sells insurance in 36 states, and in some of the other 14 states running their own online exchanges.

Exchanges and some insurers began moving deadlines back after the government moved the plan selection deadline from December 15 to December 23, a move it said was aimed at making sure tech problems and the cancellation of some individual insurance plans did not create a logjam of shoppers.

The government last week said that it was urging insurers to allow shoppers more time to pay their first premiums and also suggested other measures like extending the plan selection deadline for January 1 coverage.

AHIP said that moving the deadline will help protect consumers from potential gaps in their coverage caused by the HealthCare.gov issues, which have also affected data transmissions to the insurers about their new customers.

"Significant progress has been made in recent weeks to improve the enrollment process for consumers, but more work needs to be done to resolve the back-end challenges, particularly those related to processing enrollment files, to ensure all consumers who selected a plan are enrolled in coverage," it said.

WellPoint Inc, which operates 14 Blue Cross Blue Shields that offer exchange-based plans, said it would follow the AHIP schedule with the January 10 deadline. Aetna Inc and Molina Healthcare Inc had already announced similar extensions last week.

Two other states running their own exchanges had also already moved deadlines. Rhode Island has said consumers can select a plan to December 31 and must pay by January 6. Maryland has extended its enrollment cut-off to December 27 and its payment deadline to January 15.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer and Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Jan Paschal, Bernard Orr)

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