Millions Will Gain Health Coverage on January 1, If Insurers Can Complete Their Paperwork

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Photo: Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Obama administration is ending 2013 on a positive note, reporting that despite the problems with healthcare.gov, about 2 million people have enrolled in health insurance on the state and federal exchanges. However, there may be a new round of Obamacare complaints in the coming days and weeks if enrollees find that they don't have coverage just yet. By pushing back the enrollment deadline, the federal government allowed stragglers to sign up for coverage that theoretically starts on Jan. 1. However, the delays created new headaches for insurance companies, which are now struggling to process applications and get membership cards into customers' hands.

“The insurance companies who have the biggest enrollment may not have enough resources to enroll everyone properly — or enough time to correct errors, before Wednesday,” Sheryl Skolnick, an insurance industry expert at CRT Capital, told Politico. “We’ll find out if there is a flood of newly insured into hospitals on 1/1 or doctors’ offices/urgent care clinics on 1/2/14 who think they are insured but aren’t. That’s when the real work matching up the who with the what will take place.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, insurers have already conceded that there's no way they'll have all the applications processed by Jan. 1. As usual, coverage will only begin once insurers receive the customer's first premium payment. After the federal government pushed the enrollment deadline to Christmas Eve from Dec. 15, several insurance companies extended their payment deadlines into January. Some insurers say as many as half of the new enrollees they've billed have yet to send in payments, and there are reports of customers who are eager to pay but have yet to receive a bill.

Several companies are trying to make the transition easier on new customers. CVS and Walgreens are prepared to offer short-term supplies of prescription medications to people who show they've signed up for coverage, and Independence Blue Cross is mailing out membership cards now so they can be activated as soon as they receive people's payments. In the meantime, enrollees will have to pay their medical bills in full and request reimbursements once the latest kinks are sorted out.