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California extends payment deadline for Obamacare policies to Jan. 15

Amid deepening consumer frustration, California's health exchange extended the payment deadline to Jan. 15 for insurance coverage starting Jan. 1 under the federal healthcare law.

The state's move late Saturday comes as many enrollees continue to report problems getting an invoice from their insurance company or paying their first month's premium so coverage is retroactive to Jan. 1.

Consumers say they have encountered website glitches trying to pay online and jammed phone lines when attempting to get help from their insurer or the Covered California exchange.

A last-minute surge of applicants wanting policies that started Jan. 1 has created bottlenecks and delays at government-run exchanges and insurers nationwide trying to implement the Affordable Care Act.

Healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente acknowledged Saturday that it was still processing enrollment files, and customer invoices are being mailed out during the next week. It announced a similar payment extension until Jan. 15 shortly before Covered California did.

"Members should not be concerned if they haven't received an invoice yet," said Ken Hunter, senior vice president of Kaiser's insurance exchange operations. "As long as payment is postmarked or submitted online by Jan. 15, Kaiser Permanente will honor their membership retroactive to Jan. 1."

Covered California gave slightly different guidance. It said customers' payments must be received by Jan. 15, not just postmarked or in transit by that date.

The latest change marks another shifting deadline in what has been a rocky rollout for President Obama's signature law.

The California exchange had set Monday, Jan. 6, as the payment deadline for its 11 participating health plans.

America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group, said last month that its member companies would accept payment until Jan. 10. Officials continue to remind consumers to check with their specific insurer on what deadlines may apply.

At Kaiser, California's largest HMO, Hunter said enrollees can make medical appointments and get care even if they haven't received an invoice yet.

"We want everyone who completed an application by the enrollment deadline to receive our high-quality care and services," Hunter said.

Open enrollment continues through March 31 under the healthcare law.

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