Vermont Health Connect quietly extended the deadline for people to buy insurance coverage that would start Jan. 1, a spokesman confirmed Tuesday.
The previous deadline was Monday, but VHC officials said people who sign up for coverage before Dec. 31 can still select a Jan. 1 start date if they choose.
VHC notified navigators and assistors, who help people sign up for coverage, but did not include the extension in a Friday news release to the media that included updated enrollment figures. There was no stand-alone release announcing the extended deadline.
There is nothing on the VHC homepage notifying people of the extended deadline, but once users click the “get started” tab, the following message appears, “Please note: January 1 will be the default start date if you confirm a plan choice by December 31.”
VHC spokesman Sean Sheehan said VHC officials did not issue a news release because they wanted to avoid creating “fanfare” around the extended deadline.
“We didn’t want that Dec. 31 date anchored in people’s minds,” he said. “We want them to know the sooner they sign up, the better.”
At the same time, VHC wanted to ensure that everyone who needs coverage starting Jan. 1 is able to get it, he said.
Plans don’t go into effect until the first month’s payment is received, so people who sign up late in the month and don’t make their first payment soon after, may not receive proof of insurance for several weeks, Sheehan said.
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Those people will have to cover any medical expenses they have prior to receiving proof of insurance, but as long as they made their plan selection by Dec. 31, any costs they incur will be retroactively credited to their account.
California, Minnesota and New York have all extended their deadlines, according to media reports. Many people calling the help line for the federal healthcare.gov exchange had trouble getting through Monday, according to those reports.
A spokesman for healthcare.gov, which covers 37 states, told USA Today that, “We will call them back at a convenient time starting tomorrow (Tuesday), and if they select a plan, their coverage will still begin on Jan. 1.”
VHC had 4,079 new customers select 2015 health plans as of Dec. 11. Less than 400 of those plans are effectuated, meaning the first month’s premium is paid and the insurer has the customer in their system.
State officials predicted that between 3,000 and 8,000 people would purchase insurance during VHC’s second open enrollment period, which ends Feb. 15.
People who select a plan after Dec. 31 and before Jan. 15 will have coverage that begins in February; those who sign up by Feb. 15 will have coverage that begins in March.
VHC had renewed 21,788 policies as of Dec. 11. There were 32,000 customers who purchased 2014 coverage through the exchange’s individual market.
The state is automatically renewing customers who have not canceled or requested changes to their coverage. VHC had hoped that process would be complete by mid-December, but Sheehan said it will likely take until the end of the month.
People filling out paper renewal applications because they need to make a change to their coverage have until Feb. 15 to do so, but if they submit those changes in the second half of the month, it’s unlikely the changes will be reflected on their next invoice, Sheehan said.
That’s because the paper applications are being entered manually. Changes that could leave someone with a gap in coverage are being prioritized, as are changes that will impact billing, Sheehan added.
If someone gets a bill that doesn’t reflect a change they submitted, or has to pay out-of-pocket because of the lag in entering changes, VHC will work with them to see their account is credited retroactively, he said.
More than 100,000 people were determined to be eligible and were enrolled in Medicaid through VHC this year. Vermont decided, with federal approval, to forgo annual verification of people’s eligibility until after the open enrollment period.
Internal documents provided to VTDigger outlined concerns voiced by the feds that some Medicaid beneficiaries in Vermont are approaching two years since their eligibility for the low-income health coverage program was checked.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:12 p.m. Tuesday.
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