LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The state’s largest health insurer on Monday gave some people an extra week to buy insurance in time for coverage that would kick in on Jan. 1, saying that roughly half of those purchasing plans on their own can skip enrollment on the government’s website.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan said the extension until Dec. 31 applies to consumers not qualifying for subsidized premiums on the federal insurance market. The “off-marketplace” plans are identical to those on http://www.healthcare.gov but only available to those making too much to receive tax credits.
The announcement came the same day the Obama administration extended by one day — until Tuesday — the deadline to sign up on the exchange for coverage that begins New Year’s Day. Open enrollment ends March 31.
The tax credits will make premiums more affordable for households earning between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty line. That’s about $11,500 to $46,000 for an individual, and roughly $23,500 to $94,000 for a family of four.
For those making more than that, “we can enroll you right away,” said Terry Burke, Blue Cross’ vice president for individual business. He added that consumers qualifying for premium subsidies who are interested in a Blue Cross plan can cut their call time in half by first registering at healthcare.gov.
Insurers reported a burst of calls in the days leading up to Monday, which had been the deadline for Americans in the 36 states served by the federal site to sign up if they wanted coverage that would start on Jan. 1.
Before the health care law’s existence, Blue Cross typically got 400 to 600 calls a day regarding plans sold to individuals, Burke said. In the last week, it averaged 7,800 per day.
Burke said the insurer is enrolling 3,000 to 5,000 customers per day in individual plans, both on and off the federal marketplace. It has more than 400 people staffed at a call center, an eight-fold increase in recent weeks, and planned to be open late Monday and on Christmas Eve.
Another Michigan insurer selling plans on and off the exchange, Priority Health, said customers can visit in-person centers in the Grand Rapids and Detroit areas to ask questions and get help with enrollment.
“We’ve found those have been extremely helpful,” said spokeswoman Sara Bloomberg.
Priority Health, which got the go-ahead from the state insurance office to sell pre-Affordable Care Act plans for coverage through 2014, said more than 70 of their individual subscribers decided to do so along with others who received cancellation notices from other companies.
Blue Cross is letting older policies lapse and moving people into new ones, but is keeping one individual health plan available as a fallback option through next year.
The state has estimated that a minimum of 364,000 Michigan residents may enroll on the health exchange in 2014, while an outside analysis pegs the number at around 127,000.