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Anthem Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente extend payment deadlines again

Amid further delays for consumers, California's two largest health insurers extended payment deadlines once more for people who signed up for Jan. 1 coverage through the Covered California exchange.

Anthem Blue Cross, a unit of industry giant WellPoint Inc., said it is giving new enrollees until Jan. 31 to pay their first month's premium. Kaiser Permanente, the state's largest HMO, extended the deadline to Jan. 22.

Wednesday remains the official deadline for other policies purchased through the Covered California exchange, but its 11 insurers are free to grant extra time, and customers are urged to check with their specific health plan. These new dates also apply to coverage bought outside the exchange.

These changes mark the latest in a series of deadline extensions, reflecting the bumpy transition under the Affordable Care Act.

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Blue Shield of California said it's sticking with the Wednesday cutoff for premium payment because a "great majority" of new customers have paid and another extension would be confusing.

A spokeswoman for Kaiser said the "overwhelming majority" of those who enrolled for Jan. 1 coverage have paid for their plans.

"For those affected by processing delays, we have extended the payment deadline for Jan. 1 coverage to Jan. 22, to allow all of our members time to receive and pay their invoices," said company spokeswoman Holly Potter.

Kaiser said it also continues to contact enrollees to help them pay online or by phone.

Many of the newly enrolled say insurance companies can't confirm their coverage, won't answer basic questions and haven't issued identification numbers needed to fill prescriptions or obtain medical care. When seeking help, they say, they often run into long waits on the phone, with little or no response.

One delay until recently was that Covered California was still processing some paper applications it had received for January coverage. The exchange said it has sent all of those files to health plans.

Open enrollment under the federal healthcare law continues through March 31. Wednesday is the deadline to enroll for coverage that begins Feb. 1.

Covered California has enrolled nearly 500,000 people in private health plans through the end of December, according to federal data released this week.

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