Health Insurance: Customers beginning the new year with delays

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Thousands of health insurance consumers around the country have started the new year dealing with missing ID cards, billing errors and other problems tied to an enrollment surge at the end of 2015.

Brokers and insurers in several states told The Associated Press that they've been inundated with complaints about these issues from customers with individual plans and those with coverage through small businesses. Insurance provider Health Care Service Corp., for instance, has been dealing with delays for about 10,000 companies, while billing errors caused bank overdrafts for 3,200 individual customers of a North Carolina insurer.

These delays mean that some customers may have to pay for care up front or wait for their insurance cards to arrive before scheduling a doctor's appointment, even though many have technically been covered since Jan. 1.

Unprecedented

"I've been in the health insurance business 20 plus years, and I've never seen anything like this," said Dallas-based broker Tanya Boyd, who estimates that hundreds of customers have complained about delays in receiving their insurance cards or a confirmation of coverage.

The delays are due in part to more customers than expected shopping for coverage late last year after carriers ended plans in some markets, leaving thousands to find new ones. And a last-minute enrollment deadline extension from the federal government gave people two more days to sign up. An expansion of the Affordable Care Act's mandate that employers cover their workers also may have contributed to the rush.

It's unclear how many people have had trouble so far this year. To be sure, a certain amount of problems can crop up at the start of every year, after insurers wrap up a busy holiday season clogged with enrollment periods for several types of insurance. But brokers say this year has been exceptional.

Boyd, the Dallas broker, said her market was swamped after Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas stopped offering a popular plan that covered about 400,000 people with a wide network of providers. Boyd helped client Bridget Eyler find another plan with a narrower network of providers after the insurer mistakenly enrolled her in a plan she didn't choose. But Eyler, an attorney from the Dallas suburb of Coppell, says she wasn't officially in the system until a few days ago and still has no documents proving she's insured.

Changing federal deadlines also contributed to the problem in some markets. Consumers who wanted coverage that started Jan. 1 originally had to sign up by Dec. 15. But HealthCare.gov, the federal website that handles applications for coverage from ACA exchanges in most states, announced Dec. 15 that it would extend the deadline two days due to heavy demand.

That gave Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina a rush of last-minute business as it was transitioning to a new customer service system.


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