People covered by the Connecticut Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan and similar high-risk insurance pools across the country will get another month to find new coverage before the program ends in 2014, federal officials announced Thursday.

In addition, federal officials announced that people buying coverage through state health insurance exchanges will have extra time — until Dec 31 — to pay their first month’s premiums if they want their new health plans to take effect Jan. 1.

Some Connecticut customers will have even longer to pay. Kevin Counihan, CEO of Access Health CT, Connecticut’s exchange, said the organization was working with insurers to extend the payment deadline until Jan. 7.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurer, indicated that it will allow people until Jan. 7 to pay their first month’s premiums for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1, as long as they submit their applications by Dec. 23.

An official at the insurer HealthyCT said the company wants to be flexible for consumers who want coverage that begins Jan. 1, but is still assessing its options.

A representative for ConnectiCare, the third carrier selling plans on the state’s exchange, did not provide information about the company’s payment deadline.

The announcement Thursday came as officials try to smooth the rollout of the federal health law commonly known as Obamacare, with less than three weeks to go before the first plans sold as part of the law take effect.

To get coverage that takes effect Jan. 1, people must sign up by Dec. 23. That deadline was extended last month.

The open enrollment period to buy insurance through the exchange runs through March 31, so people who don’t need coverage Jan. 1 have additional time to pick a plan.

Anthem spokeswoman Sarah Yeager said the Jan. 7 payment deadline applies to people who buy individual policies through the exchange as well as outside the exchange. People who properly complete and submit their applications by Dec. 23 are expected to have a policy that takes effect Jan. 1 and coverage in place once their initial payment has been made. But she said that people who apply after Dec. 15 aren’t guaranteed to receive their insurance ID card by Jan. 1.

Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan extended

The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, known as PCIP, was created as part of the federal health law to provide coverage to people with medical conditions. It was slated to end Dec. 31, but will now run through the end of January.

The plan currently has close to 500 enrollees, down from a high of about 700, said David Dearborn, spokesman for the state Department of Social Services, which administers the program.

Nationally, high-risk insurance plans like PCIP have 85,798 members, said Chiquita Brooks-Lasure, deputy center and policy director at the federal Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.

Because insurance companies selling plans to individuals in Connecticut and most other states can decide whether to cover a person based on his or her medical history, many people with health problems have been unable to buy insurance.

That will change Jan. 1, when the health law will require insurers to cover anyone who wants to buy insurance. The subsidized insurance pools for people with pre-existing conditions were included in the health law as a short-term measure, designed to last until the 2014 changes took effect.

Dearborn said the program is determining which members have not yet transitioned to other plans and is calling them to explain their options.

The change does not apply to Connecticut’s other high-risk insurance pools run by the Connecticut Health Reinsurance Association. Those plans predated the federal health law and will continue to be offered next year, although members are likely to find other insurance options that cost less.

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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