The Obama administration made what insurers characterized as a rule change in a letter to six Senators Thursday, adding those whose policies were canceled to an existing hardship exemption.
“I very much appreciate your asking for a clarification on whether this exemption applies to those with canceled plans who might be having difficulty paying for an existing bronze, silver or gold plan,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote. “I agree with you that these customers should qualify for this temporary hardship exemption, and I can assure you that the exemption will be available to them.”
Sebelius continued, “As a result, in addition to their existing options these individuals will also be able to buy a catastrophic plan to smooth their transition to coverage through the Marketplace. To avoid any confusion on this point and to make sure consumers can make decisions that are in their best interest, we will supplement our existing call centers with a dedicated phone number and specialists to assist with any questions in this area.”
America’s Health Insurance Plans, the national trade association representing health insurers, released a statement via Twitter, as follows: “Latest rule change could cause significant instability in marketplace & lead to further confusion & disruption for consumers.”
The change came just days before the Dec. 23 signup deadline for Obamacare marketplace coverage beginning Jan. 1; AHIP announced earlier this week that in response to a request from the administration, insurers are voluntarily extending the deadline for customers to pay the first month’s premium to Jan. 10, offering retroactive coverage to Jan. 1. The change, AHIP said, was “to help protect consumers from potential gaps in their coverage caused by the ongoing technical problems with healthcare.gov.”
The deadline to obtain coverage to avoid Obamacare’s individual mandate penalty is the end of marketplace open enrollment on March 31, 2014.