A short but important post from Jeryl Bier at the Standard. To refresh your memory, the reason everyone from Obama to Sebelius to the rank-and-file on the “tech surge” team keeps babbling about fixing the website by the end of this month is because the deadline for signing up for insurance coverage is just two weeks later, on December 15th, if you want it to take effect at the beginning of the year. In a perfect world where the White House had some dim sense of what it was doing, the “young healthies” on whom O-Care’s fiscal stability depends would already be signing up en masse via Healthcare.gov. People who’ve had their plans canceled would, at least, now have the option of signing up on the website so that they don’t suffer a lapse of coverage in January, even if that means higher premiums. Obama would have spent the past month doing a nonstop publicity tour encouraging people to enroll before mid-December to make sure that they have insurance on 1/1. In the world we actually live in, where the president supposedly didn’t find out that the federal insurance exchange was a smoking crater until after it went live on October 1st, virtually no one’s been able to enroll in an exchange plan yet. If — if — the website can be repaired by November 30th, that’ll give the White House two weeks at least to warn people that they need to enroll immediately if they want their new coverage in effect on New Year’s Day. It ain’t much, but it’s something.
But what if that’s all wrong? What if signing up for coverage by December 15th doesn’t by itself ensure that your new plan takes effect on January 1st? In fact, says Bier, in order to be covered at the start of 2014, not only do you need to sign up by 12/15 but you need to pay your first premium too. And, like everything else, that’s not easy to do on Healthcare.gov.
TWS: If I don’t pick a plan until 12/15, won’t it be too late for my info to go to the insurance company, them to bill me, and me to make a payment by 12/21? Seems pretty tight.
[Healthcare.gov] Rep: You must make your first premium payment by 12/15/13 for your coverage to begin January 1, 2014. If you make your payment by the 21st, your coverage will begin in February 1, 2014.
TWS: You said above “It may give you that option” to pay on healthcare.gov. Does that mean it’s not available yet?
Rep: We are still experiencing some technical difficulties with the website, which is why it would be best to possibly go through the insurance company to make your first premium payment.
How many members of the “five percent” (the actual number is likely higher) will have enough cash available in a pinch — right before Christmas, mind you — to pony up that surprise first premium on time? How many “young healthies,” having enrolled on the site, will somehow have it slip their mind that they need to contact their insurer separately to arrange payment by the deadline? How many users of Healthcare.gov, thinking that they’ll be covered on January 1, won’t even realize that they’ve only completed half the process to make that happen? This is yet another landmine for O-Care buried on the 2014 calendar: Some segment of the population, wrongly thinking that their coverage is in effect, will go to the doctor in January only to find that they missed the payment deadline. Note to all bros in Colorado: No keg stands until February.
By the way, the White House’s new hope for Healthcare.gov is that it’ll be able to handle 80 percent of users by December 1st. That’d be ridiculous for any private commercial website, but it’s a moral victory as a salvage operation for a site built by a team whose ostensible leader eagerly reminds the media that he didn’t know much about it until it was too late. Exit quotation: “People don’t like to tell him bad news.”