With some customers still waiting to receive bills or have their payments processed, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is extending the deadline for customers to pay their first month’s premium to Jan. 15.

The five-day extension means that people who signed up for coverage through the state’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT, by Dec. 23 will receive coverage retroactive to Jan. 1 as long as they pay their premium by next Wednesday.

Anthem is the state’s largest health insurer and also dominates the market on plans sold through the Connecticut’s health insurance exchange. Overall, 34,295 people signed up through Access Health to receive private insurance beginning this month, and about two-thirds of them picked Anthem plans.

“Our goal is to ensure new enrollees can access their benefits as early as possible in 2014. To make that happen, and to accommodate the late December application surge, we will not be rejecting any January policies where payment has been received by January 15th,” the company said in a statement Tuesday. “Payment by January 15th ensures coverage will be retroactive to Jan. 1. Our call centers were staffed throughout the holidays, and teams of employees will be working to process applications quickly in this compressed timeframe.”

Access Health CEO Kevin Counihan said Tuesday that exchange officials had not approached the other two carriers selling plans through the exchange’s individual market about extending their payment deadlines. He said the two, ConnectiCare Benefits and HealthyCT, seemed to be in good shape.

ConnectiCare and HealthyCT customers have until Friday, Jan. 10, to pay their first month’s premium if they want to receive coverage retroactive to Jan. 1.

Counihan said it appeared that the two smaller, local plans were able to be more nimble. Anthem is owned by Wellpoint, a national company that operates plans in 14 states.

A week into the coverage period for health plans sold through the exchange, some customers say they’re still having problems getting their insurance set up.

Some Anthem customers who enrolled through the exchange have reported waiting weeks to get their first month’s premium bill or having made electronic payments that did not get processed. Some have also complained about long wait times to reach a representative at the company’s call center. Others who have paid are waiting to receive insurance ID cards.

Anthem spokeswoman Sarah Yeager said that members who have paid their premiums but haven’t received an insurance ID card yet can download a temporary ID card from Anthem’s website. (To do so, members can log in to their account at www.anthem.com, then under “Resources,” select “Print Temporary ID Card.” A new screen will open with the temporary ID card.)

If members go to the doctor before getting an ID card, the provider can call and verify coverage, Yeager said.

The Connecticut Insurance Department’s consumer affairs division has been receiving more calls than usual, primarily from people who bought plans through the exchange.

Many of the callers have said they did not receive an insurance ID card, were having trouble paying a bill online or hadn’t received a bill, which must be paid for coverage to take effect. Some also said they were having trouble reaching a live operator at their insurance company or at the exchange, according to the department. In addition, some people who are supposed to be covered by Medicaid called because they hadn’t received their ID cards yet.

Kathy Walsh, the division’s principal examiner, said the new system for insurance enrollment makes for a lengthier process. While in the past people typically signed up online through an insurance company, those who go through the exchange sign up through an intermediary. The exchange sends enrollees’ information to the insurance companies, which must upload it to their systems, then send out bills.

And that lengthier process was pushed into a shorter time frame after officials extended the deadline for people to apply for coverage that takes effect this month to Dec. 23, from Dec. 15.

“I think we saw a little bit of this coming,” she said.

For people who applied toward the end of December, Walsh said it’s likely a bill will come soon. “We’re trying to tell people to be as patient as possible,” she said.

Other callers who applied at the beginning of December or earlier said they haven’t gotten their materials yet and weren’t able to get through to their insurance companies despite several attempts, Walsh said. They’re being advised that they can file a complaint with the department. But Walsh cautioned that going that route can still require waiting a week and a half to get an answer from the carrier.

“It’s not an overnight solution,” she said.

Walsh urged people to pay their bills online if possible to speed things up. And she recommended that people call insurance companies at times when call volumes tend to be lighter.

“Try to call toward the end of the day,” she said. “Certainly Monday morning is not going to be the best time.”

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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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