Photo of State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri
Victoria Veltri Arielle Levin Becker / The CT Mirror

As Connecticut residents continue to face problems getting their new health care coverage set up, two more insurance companies selling plans through the state’s exchange have extended their payment deadlines for January coverage.

ConnectiCare Benefits will accept January premium payments through Wednesday, Jan. 15, five days beyond the previous deadline, for people who signed up for coverage through Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield announced the same deadline change Tuesday.

And HealthyCT, a new insurer, announced Wednesday that it will accept payments postmarked on or before Friday, Jan. 17.

The new deadlines apply to people who signed up by Dec. 23 for coverage through the exchange, the marketplace created as part of the federal health law commonly known as Obamacare. Their coverage was supposed to take effect Jan. 1, but isn’t considered activated until they pay their first month’s premium. The payment deadline had been Friday, Jan. 10.

But some customers, particularly those who picked Anthem plans, have reported problems, saying they haven’t received a bill, haven’t had their electronic payments processed or haven’t received insurance ID cards. Many have complained about long waits to reach a live operator at Anthem’s call center.

Michelle Zettergren, ConnectiCare’s senior vice president and chief sales and marketing officer, said the deadline change was intended to help ensure that as many state residents would be covered as possible. But she noted that the company had not experienced any delays in sending out bills or ID cards, and that so far, about half of the company’s exchange customers had paid their bills. ConnectiCare is reaching out to those who have not.

Both the Connecticut Insurance Department and the state Office of the Healthcare Advocate have been hearing from concerned customers who signed up for coverage through the exchange.

“The volume is tremendous,” said state Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri, whose office is getting between 75 and 100 calls per day from people with questions about plans purchased on the exchange or Medicaid.

“People are confused,” Veltri said. “And you’re starting to see a little bit of panic on some people’s parts.”

One caller had surgery scheduled this week, having assumed that coverage would be in place this week. Another is in the middle of cancer treatment. Veltri’s office is getting involved in cases where people need immediate medical services and switched to the new plans expecting coverage Jan. 1. The carriers have been responsive in addressing those cases, she said.

Veltri said the calls are predominantly from people trying to straighten out bills for private plans purchased through Access Health and people who applied for Medicaid and wonder if they’re covered. People deemed eligible for Medicaid through the exchange received notices saying so, which they can use as proof of coverage when getting care until they receive a Medicaid card. Some callers have questions about those notices and, in a couple of cases, have said health care providers would not accept them as proof of coverage, Veltri said.

The majority of callers with private plans are Anthem customers, Veltri said, noting that it reflects the company’s volume of applicants. Anthem is slated to cover about two-thirds of the 34,295 people who signed up for private insurance through the exchange as of Dec. 23.

Veltri is concerned about cases in which people still have not received bills and don’t have an ID number they can use to log on to company websites and pay their bills online.

Anthem allows people who have paid their bills to print temporary ID cards through its website, but people who have not received their bills or had their payments processed can’t do that.

Some customers have said they have tried to pay electronically multiple times but have not had the money taken out of their account or charged to their credit card. Veltri said people in that situation who received verification of payment from the carrier, even if it wasn’t charged to their account or deducted, should hold onto the verification. “That is your lifeline to coverage,” she said. She recommended that people also follow up with their credit card companies or banks.

Veltri said the call centers need to be staffed adequately for people to get through, and should have longer hours if necessary to handle the volume.

And she said it’s important that everyone who signed up by the deadline for getting coverage effective Jan. 1 be able to have their plans activated. “We have to do everything in our power to make these consumers whole, because they’ve done everything we asked them to do,” said Veltri, a member of Access Health’s board of directors.

Although she acknowledged that it’s likely of little comfort to people still struggling to get their coverage straightened out, Veltri said she tries to remain mindful of the big picture, the fact that this month marks the start of a health law intended to give thousands more state residents access to health care coverage. “We’re trying to do something really good for people,” she said. “We’re just trying to help people get health care.”

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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