Archive for January, 2014

Obamacare rules on equal coverage delayed: NY Times

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration is delaying enforcement of a provision of the new healthcare law that prohibits employers from providing better health benefits to top executives than to other employees, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

Tax officials said they would not enforce the provision this year because they had yet to issue regulations for employers to follow, according to the Times.

Internal Revenue Service spokesman Bruce Friedland said employers would not have to comply until the agency issued regulations or other guidance, the newspaper reported.

The IRS was not immediately available to confirm the Times story.

The rollout of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, has been marked by a number of delays in implementing certain parts of the law. In November, the administration announced a one-year delay in online insurance enrollment for small businesses.

Technical problems with the enrollment website plagued its launch on October 1, but they have largely been fixed and more than 2 million people have signed up for private insurance. The White House hopes to have 7 million people sign up by March 31, the deadline for coverage under Obamacare.

The law, adopted in 2010, says employer-sponsored health plans must not discriminate “in favor of highly compensated individuals” with respect to either eligibility or benefits.

IRS officials said they were wrestling with complicated questions like how to measure the value of employee health benefits, how to define “highly compensated” and what exactly constitutes discrimination, the Times reported.

The ban on discriminatory health benefits was to take effect in 2010. Administration officials said then that they needed more time to develop rules and that the rules would be issued well before this month, when other major provisions of the law took effect.

A similar ban on discrimination, adopted more than 30 years ago, already applies to employers that serve as their own insurers. The new law extends that policy to employers that buy insurance from commercial carriers.

(Writing by Eric Beech; editing by Gunna Dickson)

Posted in: Business Insurance, Covered California, Health Care Reform (ACA)

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Major Carriers Revise Payment Deadlines

A backlog of Obamacare customers attempting to make their first premium payment on new health exchange plans has prompted several major insurers to revise their original deadline of Jan. 10.

Blue Cross Blue Shield operations in Texas and Illinois, along with three more BCBS plans that are part of the Health Care Service Corp, are now accepting premium payments through Jan. 30. So are all plans sold through HealthCare.gov, the insurer said, with retroactive coverage to Jan. 1 being issued to consumers in 26 states.

Meanwhile WellPoint—the nation’s second-biggest insurer—is allowing consumers until Jan. 15 to make payments.

Kristin Binns, a spokesperson for the carrier, told Bloomberg the extra five days will allow consumers a chance to access their benefits as quickly as possible, while allowing for the backlog created by the surge in applications late last month.

“Our goal is to ensure our members can access their benefits as early as possible in 2014,” Binns said. “To make that happen and accommodate the late December application surge, we will not be rejecting any January policies where payment has been received by Jan. 15.”

Jan. 15 will also function as a premium payment deadline for state-run exchanges in California, Oregon and Washington.

While Health Care Service Corp. said in a statement it had already received “a significant volume of payments,” anecdotal evidence from other carriers suggests many consumers are still attempting to pay their premiums.

And the problem isn’t just affecting insurers.

In Wichita Fall, Texas, producer Kelly Fristoe has been receiving calls since Christmas from clients who were on hold for two to three hours attempting to pay their premiums.

“There’s a snowball effect at the insurance companies; they’re just backlogged,” Fristoe said. “When you sign up on the 24th, that doesn’t give the insurance company enough time to process your payment, print your ID card and get it back to you in an already overwhelmed postal system.”

Fristoe said he found a temporary solution in advising clients to call the Spanish helpline for Blue Cross Blue Shield, where operators also spoke English. However, Fristoe believes “the word got out because now there’s long holds there as well.”

Some carriers like Aetna Inc., however, say they are still considering Friday to be the payment deadline.

New deadlines issues by carriers and state exchanges so far include:

Covered California—Jan. 15

Washington Healthplanfinder—Jan. 15

Cover Oregon—Jan. 15

Kaiser Permanente—Jan. 15

WellPoint Inc.—Jan. 15

Independence Blue Cross Blue Shield—Jan. 28

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas—Jan. 30

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois—Jan. 30

Blue Cross Blue Shield plans through HealthCare.gov—Jan. 30

Health Care Service Corp—Jan. 30

Humana—Jan. 31

Posted in: Covered California, Health Care Reform (ACA)

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