Anthem extends payment deadline again for Obamacare customers

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is giving customers until the end of the month to pay their January premium bills if they want coverage effective Jan. 1.

The extension of the payment deadline to Jan. 31 comes as customers have struggled to get coverage set up for plans purchased through the state’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT.

Many people who picked Anthem plans expecting coverage Jan. 1 say they have not received bills or have not been able to get insurance ID cards because their payments have not been processed by the carrier.

By Monday afternoon, the company had posted a Connecticut-specific set of frequently asked questions on its website, apologizing for customers’ inconvenience and urging people not to worry if they had not received a bill or if their payments had not yet been processed.

The company’s call center has been deluged by a high volume of calls, leaving some applicants unable to get through. Acknowledging this, Anthem posted on its website suggestions for getting information without having to call. It includes an email address, help@anthem.com, for people to use.

Anthem spokeswoman Sarah Yeager said that mailbox is for use by customers of Wellpoint, Anthem’s parent company, which operates plans in 14 states. As of Wednesday, people in Connecticut will have a dedicated email box that she said would be continuously monitored. Customers will be able to access it by going to anthem.com and clicking on the “contact us” link under “helpful links” at the bottom of the website, then selecting Connecticut. Yeager said people who use that mailbox can expect an answer in two business days.

Anthem’s website currently includes a link for customers to make payments, which requires people to enter a payment ID.

It notes that people who have paid their January premium can print a temporary insurance ID card five business days after paying. But many people who are having trouble getting their coverage set up say they have paid, but have not had the money deducted from their accounts or charged to their credit cards, making them unable to use this option.

The notice on Anthem’s website said that people who paid but have not seen their accounts charged should not worry. “It mayb e due to the high volume of late December enrollments,” it said. “Please do not attempt to pay online or via bank draft a second time for January’s enrollment. Payments will continue to be processed throughout the month.”

It also said that people who don’t have a temporary or permanent ID card but have paid can have their physician, pharmacist or other health care provider call the company’s provider service line to verify that they have coverage and receive a guarantee of coverage.

The Connecticut Insurance Department also posted information for Anthem customers on its website.

Last week, Access Health CEO Kevin Counihan said Anthem officials had acknowledged challenges in processing applications, getting bills out, processing credit card payments and cashing checks. He said that as of Jan. 3, only 8 percent of customers slated to have coverage effective Jan. 1 had been recorded in the company’s system as having paid their premiums, although the figure also included people who bought their plans outside the exchange.

Anthem, the state’s largest insurer, dominates the exchange’s individual market, with about 25,000 customers, or about two-thirds of those who signed up for private insurance through Access Health. Some of the 25,000 signed up after the Dec. 23 deadline for coverage to start at the beginning of this year, meaning that their insurance coverage is expected to start Feb. 1.

Counihan said Monday that Access Health would be sending out email blasts and making robocalls to people who had used the exchange to purchase Anthem plans, letting them know that the fastest way to get their coverage started would be to pay their bills online with a credit card.

“We continue to be very concerned about the interest of our members,” he said. “It’s paramount to us that access to care be provided to them as quickly as possible by any of the carriers.”

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