On Thursday afternoon, the Department of Health and Human Services said it was “strongly encouraging” insurers to help the department fix a raft of problems created by the rocky rollout of President Obama’s health care law.
Among the guidance the HHS announced:
— It is requiring insurers to accept payments until Dec. 31 for coverage starting on Jan. 1. It is also “urging” insurers to give individuals more time beyond that to pay for coverage. In other words, if somebody pays for coverage in the middle of January, HHS is asking insurers to retroactively make that person's coverage effective as of Jan. 1. HHS is also asking insurers to cover individuals who offer a "down payment," even if that payment only covers part of the first month's premiums.
— In a press release, HHS said it was also "strongly encouraging insurers to treat out-of-network providers as in-network to ensure continuity of care for acute episodes or if the provider was listed in their plan’s provider directory as of the date of an enrollee’s enrollment."
— HHS is also "strongly encouraging insurers to refill prescriptions covered under previous plans during January."
On a conference call, an HHS spokeswoman emphasized: “We are just proposing it as an option and we’re encouraging issuers. There is no requirement.”
Translation: HHS has a huge mess on its hands and it hopes that by getting ahead of this news, it can foist the blame for the problems on insurers.
Of course, for insurers who have spent years designing plans to comply with the law, this would present huge and unreasonable logistical hurdles.
HHS also announced there would be a "special enrollment period" for people who tried to purchase insurance by Dec. 23 but couldn't because of a "system error."