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CMS Moves Back Exchange Enrollment Deadline Until Dec. 23

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

November 22, 2013 A federal official told reporters last week that the deadline for signing up for coverage on insurance exchanges that begins Jan. 1 has been moved back eight days from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23.

Applicants who enroll by then and pay their first premium by Dec. 31 will be covered as of the first of the year, said Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) spokeswoman Julie Bataille during a telephone briefing.

An industry official said that insurers were aware of that decision to change the enrollment deadline to Dec. 23 and the payment deadline to Dec. 31 but did not agree with it.

Separately, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials signaled their intention to move back other deadlines for rate filings and the open enrollment period for 2015.

Joining Bataille on the call was's fix-it man, Jeff Zients, who painted a picture of steady progress in debugging the marketplace, consistent with the vision he first outlined when the administration announced an emergency repair effort.

Zients once again insisted as he did at the outset that by Nov. 30 the site would work for the vast majority of users.

He also said in response to a reporter's question that its capacity should be sufficient to prevent a break in coverage for an estimated several million Americans who are facing a loss in coverage starting Jan. 1 because of policy cancellations on the individual market and the shuttering of federal and state risk pool programs covering hard to insure Americans.

Zients forecast improvements between now and the end of the month but warned against viewing Nov. 30 as a "magic moment."

The capacity of the site to handle simultaneous visitors will double between now and then, reaching 50,000, he said. The site on Nov. 30 will also have the capacity to handle more than 800,000 visits a day from "consumers who are seeking information, filling out applications, shopping and enrolling," he said.

"The system will not work perfectly, but it will work smoothly for the vast majority of users. While there will not be a magic moment at the end of the month when our work will be complete, users coming to the site today are already having a greatly improved experience and the site will be better at the end of the month than it is today and it will continue to improve thereafter."

Zients added that "it's important to keep in mind here that this is not a simple website but rather a complex system doing complicated work. The system needs to process the millions upon millions of unique circumstances that consumers present. It needs to determine eligibility for hundreds of state and county level programs in all their permutations and it needs to factor in subsidy levels based on family size, income, and plan selection. This is much more than a website for browsing or conducting routine transactions."

The officials noted that as further fixes are made to improve speed and capacity, there will be maintenance periods. Thus the site will be down between Saturday 9 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. as far as its application system goes and the federal hub will be down during part of that period as well.

Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, said the new Dec. 23 deadline "makes it more challenging to process enrollments in time for coverage to begin on Jan. 1."

He added: "Ultimately it will depend on how many people enroll in those last few days. It is also important to keep in mind that consumers need to pay their first month's premium before their coverage can begin."

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