By Caroline Humer
Nov 6 (Reuters) - One of the largest health insurers on the
Obamacare online marketplaces said on Wednesday it expects the
U.S. government to extend enrollment for new coverage plans
because of technical problems that have frustrated millions of
The comments from Humana Inc add to calls from
Democratic and Republican lawmakers to wait until it is clear
people can sign up for coverage under President Barack Obama's
healthcare law, commonly called Obamacare.
Humana said that it has cut by half its estimate for how
many new members it will enroll in Obamacare plans for 2014, in
line with guidance it had received from "government entities" on
how slowly the sign-up process was unfolding.
The government aims to have as many as 7 million Americans
covered through online exchanges established under the 2010
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The law, upheld by
the U.S. Supreme Court last year, mandates everyone have
healthcare insurance coverage or pay a tax.
A significant shortfall in enrollees, particularly among
young and healthy Americans who cost less to insure, would
undermine the ability of the exchanges to work financially.
"Our assumption is that there will be an extension to the
open enrollment period," Humana Chief Operating Officer Jim
Murray said during a call with investors to discuss quarterly
But U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen
Sebelius told a congressional hearing on Wednesday that an
extension was "not an option."
"We are still at the beginning of a six-month open
enrollment that ends at the end of March, and there's plenty of
time to sign up for the new plans," she said.
AHIP, the main lobbying group for the insurance industry,
has pushed back against lawmaker calls to both extend enrollment
and delay the tax on people without insurers until 2015.
Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for the group, said this week
that such a delay "could have a destabilizing effect on
insurance markets, resulting in higher premiums and coverage
disruptions for individuals and families."
NO ENROLLMENT FIGURES
The Obama administration has not made enrollment data public
since the marketplaces opened on Oct. 1, but is expected to
provide figures next week. Humana said it originally expected
500,000 sign-ups for 2014 and now was estimated a figure closer
Humana said that it was waiting to hear from the government
on how it would proceed due to the technical problems that have
hobbled the federal HealthCare.gov website.
The company also said it was waiting to hear if it would
delay the law's requirement that Americans have health insurance
in 2014 or pay a fine. Humana executives did not give details on
whether insurance companies had pressed for an extension, or
what the industry may already have heard from the administration
on the subject. Insurers met on Tuesday with White House chief
of staff Denis McDonough.
The administration says it is working around the clock to
have HealthCare.gov, which offers insurance plans in 36 states,
working smoothly by Nov. 30 so that people can sign up in time
to get coverage as of Jan. 1. Humana is offering plans through
the site in 12 states, including Florida and Texas, home to a
large concentration of the uninsured. It is also selling
coverage on state-run exchanges in Kentucky and Colorado.
Humana said it had lowered its profitability outlook for the
business in 2014 because of the lower-than-expected Obamacare
enrollment, but said it still represented a long-term
opportunity. Its comments are the most telling yet from insurers
about the impact the slow start could have on their business.
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