Skip to main content

Advanced Search

Advanced Search

Current Filters

Filter your query

Publication Types



Newsletter Article


500,000 Gain Extra Time to Apply for Health Law Coverage

By Rebecca Adams, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

December 16, 2014 -- About 500,000 people will have more time to finish applying for health law coverage starting Jan. 1 on, the federal website handling enrollment for 37 states, federal officials said on a call with reporters last week.

The deadline for signing up for new benefits or switching plans was Tuesday at 3 a.m., Eastern time. Federal officials responded to a surge in website and call center traffic by offering a little more time for some people. The individuals who are being called back to complete their applications were among the 1.6 million people who phoned call centers in the past few days.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will release updated enrollment statistics reflecting this week's activity on Dec. 23.

Almost 2.5 million people had enrolled in or renewed coverage since the Nov. 15 start of open enrollment as of the close of last week, according to a recent weekly snapshot that CMS released. About 52 percent of them were updating their coverage.

Those numbers include people who have not yet paid their first month's premium, which is necessary to begin coverage.

More than 4 million people since Nov. 15 have submitted applications for coverage, which is the first step for getting coverage before selecting a plan.

If consumers did not switch plans by Tuesday and are not among the group who will be called back, they will be automatically renewed into the same plan or a similar plan with the same subsidy level.

Roughly 335,000 people will be shifted into a different plan because their insurer stopped offering the plan they had this year, said officials.

Consumers who notify officials next week that they want to switch plans will see those changes take effect Feb. 1.

CMS Deputy Administrator Andy Slavitt called the first month "a strong start." But Slavitt and marketplace CEO Kevin Counihan indicated they have a lot of work to do every day to try to improve the customer experience.

"Not everything has worked perfectly or can work perfectly for every consumer," Slavitt told reporters.

People who called the help centers between Dec. 6 and Dec. 12 had to wait much longer than usual to speak to a representative—an average of 13 minutes and 12 seconds, compared to a four-week average wait of 5 minutes 59 seconds.

The website had a peak volume on the site at the start of last week of 125,000 concurrent users. Slavitt said that CMS officials used a feature known as the "waiting room" for a 90-minute period. Several thousand people creating new accounts had to wait for an average of about three minutes each, he said. The delays did not affect people who already had accounts.

That scenario was far better than during the first couple of months last year.

The statistics released last week do not reflect state-based marketplaces. Ten of the 14 states running their own health exchanges have extended their deadlines past Dec. 15 for coverage that takes effect on Jan. 1, said Counihan.

Federal officials assume that there will be unanticipated problems that they cannot predict now, but Counihan said they will find a way to fix them.

"What I can tell you is we can smooth it out," he said.

One example of how federal officials have already worked on a looming problem is that they found a way to alert insurers when a consumer terminates coverage with the company. Health plan officials were surprised earlier this fall when federal officials initially said they wouldn't be able to provide this information. Insurers worried that patients would be billed twice in the same month. But earlier this month, CMS began providing files to insurers with information about customers who are switching companies. However, CMS officials are not warning companies when one of their customers switches to a new plan offered by the same company.

Slavitt said that some consumers who are automatically renewed may be satisfied with their coverage, while others may decide to switch after getting a bill. People have until Feb. 15 to change their coverage.

"We have a lot of challenges ahead of us," said Slavitt.

Publication Details