Next Obamacare Worry Is Getting Enrollees to Pay Premium

Aetna Inc., the third-biggest U.S. health insurer, has seen Obamacare enrollments increase since the federal government declared its troubled website fixed last week. Now, the concern is getting people to pay their premiums.

“We have a bigger number of applicants than people who have paid,” Aetna Chief Financial Officer Shawn Guertin said in an interview today in New York. “That’s a situation that I am a little bit worried about, that people will think they have completed the process but haven’t paid the premium yet.”

The disjointed process of having customers shop through the government-run marketplace and then pay insurers separately has created a risk that people who have chosen a plan won’t actually be covered Jan. 1. And if people don’t pay by Dec. 31, insurers may end up stuck with a disproportionate number of sicker and costlier customers.

“You have to remember that many times we are dealing with low-income people,” Robert Laszewski, an Alexandria, Virginia-based consultant to carriers, said in a telephone interview last week. “They signed up and they certainly want the insurance, but do they have the money or have they changed their mind by Dec. 31? Nobody’s done this before.”

Almost 365,000 people in October and November chose a private plan through federal and state exchanges created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to the most recent data released yesterday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Those plans would take effect Jan. 1.

Website Fixes

The government didn’t say how many of those people had already paid their premium. Guertin wouldn’t say how many people have signed up for Aetna plans or paid already.

Sign-ups accelerated since the Obama administration said Nov. 30 that it met a goal of fixing software problems that crippled the online exchange after its Oct. 1 debut. With more Americans enrolling, concern has turned to the site’s problems passing along accurate data to insurers and what that means for millions of people trying to get covered.

The administration has set a goal of signing up 7 million people by the March 31 end of open enrollment.

Canceled Policies

Aetna, based in Hartford, Connecticut, also said it faces too many administrative hurdles to reinstate policies that it’s terminating next year because they don’t meet the new standards set by the health law. Hundreds of thousands of people around the country have gotten cancellation notices from insurers this year, prompting a political firestorm for President Barack Obama.

Obama responded last month by giving insurers and state regulators the option of extending the policies by an extra year. Aetna decided it would be too difficult to do in time for Jan. 1, Guertin said. Some customers were able to renew their policies early before the termination notices arrived. Guertin declined to say how many.

“It gets them a plan frankly that we’re ready to service,” he said. “It would just be too administratively burdensome to try to get everything ready to restore all the old plans.”

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