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White House Pushes Next Year's Health Plan Sign-Ups Later

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White House Pushes Next Year's Health Plan Sign-Ups Later

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White House Pushes Next Year's Health Plan Sign-Ups Later

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel.

In this part of the program, the ongoing scramble to implement the new federal health care law. The Obama administration announced a change today. They are adjusting next year's sign-up dates for new health plans under the Affordable Care Act. Again, this is for people applying next year, 2014, for coverage starting in 2015. The sign-up period for insurance in the health exchanges will start a moth later than planned, mid-November rather than mid-October. That gives insurance companies extra time to set premiums. And as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, it may also ease a political concern for Democrats.

JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: Until now, everyone has been focused on problems people are having signing up for insurance that begins next year. This change affects what happens the year after that. White House spokesman, Jay Carney, announced the delay during today's briefing.

JAY CARNEY: HHS has indicated its intent to shift the 2015 schedule for the health insurance marketplace by one month, so that the health plan application deadline would be in May and open enrollment would begin on November 15th.

ROVNER: That means open enrollment would run from next November through January of 2015, rather than October through December of 2014. Why the extra month? Carney said it would give insurance companies more time to plan for next year, particularly if, as expected, the rocky roll out of HealthCare.gov results in a rush of applications at the end of the current sign-up period.

CARNEY: This gives them more time to assess the pool of people who are getting insurance through the marketplaces and make decisions about what rates will look like in the coming year.

ROVNER: But insurance experts say the additional month actually won't give insurers very much more information. Robert Laszewski is a health industry consultant.

ROBERT LASZEWSKI: They're going to have marginally a little more data but it's not really going to matter in terms of their being able to calculate rates.

ROVNER: So what is driving the change? Laszewski says that's easy, politics.

LASZEWSKI: This is entirely to get the 2015 rates made public after the election.

ROVNER: Indeed, moving the start date of open enrollment to November 15th means that if premiums for next year rise, as many fear, it won't be known until safely after election day 2014. That could spare Democrats in endangered seats from constituents facing huge premium hikes just before they go to the polls. But there are downsides to changing the dates, at least for consumers.

Brian Hale, who heads health policy at the tax preparation firm Jackson Hewitt, says it could hit those buying insurance for the first time particularly hard by asking for money when they can least afford it.

BRIAN HALE: By putting the open enrollment period with the Christmas holiday smack dab in the middle means that health insurance will compete head to head with holiday consumption. And that's a real challenge because if you're trying to get someone to sign up for insurance, you don't want to be competing with their desire to put something under the tree.

ROVNER: Hale says as long as the administration has decided it has the authority to move the dates for open enrollment around, it ought to consider doing it when the uninsured have the most disposable income, which is in the spring when they get their tax refunds.

Meanwhile, this afternoon, the administration made another change to a date associated with this year's sign ups. Until now, in order to have coverage start on January 1st, 2014, you had to complete the enrollment process by December 15th. That date is now being pushed back to December 23rd. That's to help accommodate the crowds expected to flood the federal and state websites in the coming weeks. Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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