No way to know yet if the federal exchange is also seeing a 50 percent payment rate system-wide, but if it is, we’re looking at close to 500,000 people whose new coverage will begin tomorrow in some sort of limbo. Or maybe more, actually: At least one insurance company is seeing payment rates closer to 35 percent, and the Journal found one man who signed up in late November who still hasn’t been billed yet by his new insurer. That’s the fruit of chaos imposed on the industry by Obama and HHS in moving around deadlines haphazardly to protect themselves politically. They moved the sign-up deadline back nine days, to Christmas Eve, and then they “suggested” that the payment deadline be moved back to January 10th, all but forcing insurers to cover people retroactively. Expect a new “suggestion” for them to move the payment deadline back further into January, as some insurers have already done, if that 500,000 can’t get their acts together in time to pony up the 10th.

How chaotic is it right now? One insurance exec predicts that people will be bringing printouts from the exchange websites to the doctor in lieu of insurance cards because the industry simply can’t meet the logistical demands created by the White House to send everyone their card in time.

Normally, insurers require payment for coverage before the coverage begins. They count an enrollment as complete only when the first month’s premium has been received from a customer. As of Monday, however, only about half of enrollees billed for plans offered by more than 100 insurers in 17 states had paid their first month’s premium, said Mark Waterstraat, chief strategy officer at Benaissance, a third-party billing firm that works for those insurers…

After the federal government extended the deadline to sign up for coverage from Dec. 15 to Christmas Eve, most insurers in turn extended their deadlines for payment, some as late as Jan. 10 for coverage starting Jan. 1. Some, like Independence Blue Cross, a Philadelphia-area insurer, pushed the deadline as far back as Jan. 28. Humana Inc. said Monday that it would accept payments as late as Jan. 31.

Independence Blue Cross is pre-emptively sending insurance cards to consumers before they have paid, said Brian Lobley, a senior vice president. The insurer dispatched 20 workers over the weekend to create the plastic membership cards and ship them to presumptive enrollees. The plans won’t be “active” until the new customers actually pay Independence, but mailing the cards early will allow them to start using their plans right away once they have paid, Mr. Lobley said.

I’m guessing HHS will announce this weekend, while the media’s still in its holiday slumber, that they’re “suggesting” insurers follow Humana’s lead and extend their own payment deadlines from the 10th to the 31st. That’s the beauty of these White House “fixes”: There’s no limit to them, really, because insurers are in no position to resist even if what Obama wants doesn’t technically carry the force of law. HHS already threatened to exclude companies that don’t comply with its every ass-covering whim from the exchanges next year, a potentially terrible financial blow given how many millions more consumers will have been forced onto them by then. This is what a government takeover of health care looks like.