Health Insurers Are Extending Enrollment, EHealth Says

Health Net Inc. (HNT) and insurers in at least 14 states will let consumers who missed open enrollment sign up for health plans in April, a private online marketplace said, in a move that may help attract younger customers.

In some cases, consumers don’t need to have started an application before the enrollment deadline of March 31, eHealth Inc. (EHTH) said in a statement today. The online marketplace offers individual health plans outside of the federal and state-run exchanges created by Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

About 7.1 million people signed up on the federal and state exchanges, the Obama administration said April 1. Insurers generally don’t extend enrollment periods because they don’t want consumers to wait until they get sick to sign up. In this case, extending deadlines for a month may allow companies to gain more young and healthy customers.

“We want to make it easy for consumers to purchase insurance, whether it’s on or off the exchange,” Health Net spokesman Brad Kieffer said by telephone. “So we’re just making our off-exchange deadlines consistent with what’s taking place on the exchange.”

People who started an application on the federal website by the deadline can finish enrolling by April 15 to avoid paying a penalty. Also, some states-run exchanges have created “special enrollment periods” past the deadline.

EHealth has identified at least one health insurer in 14 states that will continue enrolling consumers past the deadline, said Nate Purpura, a spokesman for the Mountain View, California-based marketplace. He declined to name the insurers, saying eHealth would need permission from each company.

The total number of people who have enrolled outside the federal and state exchanges hasn’t been determined, though some organizations including nonprofit think tank Rand Corp. are working on surveys.

Young, Healthy

EHealth is sending insurers “a lot of young people,” Purpura said by telephone. The average age of consumers buying plans on eHealth’s marketplace dropped from 44 years old in mid-October to 36 years old at the end of March, according to the company’s online price index. Consumers shopping off-exchange cannot use government subsidies to pay for plans.

“What I can postulate is that we’re sending them better risk,” Purpura said. “This quarter, 51 percent of our enrollees were previously uninsured, so they’re new customers.”

Health Net, based in Woodland Hills, California, has extended off-exchange enrollment in Arizona, California, and Oregon.

Consumers in Arizona and California have until April 15 to sign up with Health Net, and those in Oregon have until April 31. While the deadlines match the states’ respective special enrollment periods, consumers don’t need to have started an application before the deadline if they are purchasing off the exchanges, Kieffer said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Caroline Chen in New York at cchen509@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net Bruce Rule

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