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updated: 1/10/2014 4:54 PM

3 more health insurers extend payment deadlines

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Associated Press

Giving Illinois customers more leeway, three more health insurance carriers extended payment deadlines Friday for people who signed up in the December rush for coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law.

Land of Lincoln Health extended its payment deadline to Jan. 31 for people already signed up for plans with coverage effective Jan. 1.

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Aetna customers now have until Jan. 14 to pay their first premium for January coverage. Coventry customers have until Jan. 17.

Earlier in the week, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois extended its deadline to Jan. 30 and Humana pushed its cutoff date to Jan. 31.

Blown deadlines have become commonplace for people buying insurance under the new health care law. An original New Year's Eve payment deadline fell by the wayside after the technical problems of the federal website HealthCare.gov slowed down people trying to sign up. The enrollment deadline itself shifted from mid-December to Christmas Eve.

This week, insurance company officials declined to say exactly how many of their new customers had paid their first monthly premiums, but some said a majority of customers had paid. Some acknowledged that insurance premiums will be a new financial responsibility for some families, who may still be fiddling with their household budgets to find money to cover the bill.

Land of Lincoln Health CEO Dan Yunker said the company "wants to do everything possible" to help its new members adjust, so officials decided to give anyone who met the December enrollment deadline until the end of January to make their first payment.

"We know that health insurance is an investment for individuals and their families," Yunker said in an email. "This extension will ensure that our members have access to coverage as well as ample time to make their premium payment during this first month."

Looking ahead, Land of Lincoln has set its payment deadlines for February and March coverage at the end of those months.

But other companies will stick with a midmonth payment cutoff for future months. That leads to a quirky situation for Coventry, which now has a payment deadline for February coverage that precedes its deadline for January coverage by two days.

The law requires most Americans to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. But hospitals are fighting a major awareness gap among patients who don't realize they might qualify for tax credits that could lower the cost of health insurance, said Swedish Covenant Hospital CEO Mark Newton.

The Chicago hospital has more than 20 insurance enrollment counselors, speaking 12 languages, available to help community members navigate the insurance signup process.

"We knew there would be confusion and uncertainty, especially for people who may not have had insurance previously," Newton said.

People who enroll in a health plan by Wednesday will get coverage starting Feb. 1.

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