State health care enrollment tops 35,000

Consumers with canceled health-insurance policies have until midnight to sign up for health-care coverage to comply with the Affordable Care Act. President Barack Obama eased the sign-up requirement, which was first to fall in the middle of the month, then on Monday and now on Christmas Eve.

The changes allow consumers to sign up for what are termed “catastrophic” health care plans without facing the possibility of being fined for lack of coverage.

As of Monday, the number of Coloradans enrolled in health insurance plans numbered more than 35,300, according to Connect For Health Colorado, which operates a state marketplace,

The marketplace website has a link that allows consumers to claim what is known as a “hardship exemption,” which is needed to obtain the catastrophic insurance.

The link takes consumers to a federal site at which they can apply for the exemption, said Vincent Plymell, spokesman for state insurance commissioner Marguerite Salazar.

It wasn’t immediately clear how long it was taking the federal government to issue the denials that consumers need to establish their eligibility for the exemption, and there was no immediate comment to an inquiry placed with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Failing to enroll by midnight means only that consumers won’t be covered on Jan. 1, but they still can enroll to begin coverage later in 2014 without necessarily running the risk of a fine, Plymell said.

Catastrophic coverage isn’t necessarily the least-expensive coverage available, Plymell said, urging consumers to take into account whether they are eligible for advance premium tax credits. Those credits can’t be used for catastrophic coverage, so bronze and possibly silver plans could be available for less total cost, Plymell said.

Catastrophic plans cover three annual preventive-care visits to physicians and 10 essential benefits required by the Affordable Care Act.

“In general, they are less robust and for some people might work and for some people, they might be a less-than-ideal situation,” Plymell said.

“You don’t want to rush in and pay if you’re not sure it’s best product for you,” Plymell said. “You do want to take your time.”

Delay, however, can result in running the risk of becoming ill during the time in which a consumer might not be covered.

The hardship exemption was originally intended for consumers who were younger than 30 — the so-called “invincibles” who rarely see themselves as needing insurance — whose premium payments are needed to fund the system established under the Affordable Care Act.

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