Insurers ready as health enrollment deadline nears

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Health insurers and enrollment helpers are ready for a busy weekend as consumers rush to select coverage before open enrollment ends at midnight Sunday at

“Last year there was this surge of enrollment towards the end of the open enrollment period and we expect that to happen again this year,” said Joshua Fangmeier, senior policy analyst with the University of Michigan’s Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation.

Most health insurers will be open this weekend to accommodate procrastinators. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan will have health plan advisers on duty from 8 a.m. until midnight Saturday and Sunday. Priority Health hired extra staff to field calls, and lines will be open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

“I know that I have a few friends who are holdouts that are waiting till the end to sign up,” said Joan Budden, chief marketing officer for Priority Health. “If they miss the deadline they will not be able to sign up until 2016.”

Enrollment for 2015 has surpassed the 2014 total, despite a three-month open enrollment period compared with six months in 2014. About 311,000 Michiganians had selected a Marketplace plan as of Feb. 6 — 14 percent more than during the previous open enrollment period.

“Of those 311,000, 88 percent have received a plan with tax credits and are receiving coverage that is at least partially subsidized by the Affordable Care Act,” Fangmeier said.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act of 2010, Americans are required to have insurance coverage. The Health Insurance Marketplace at was created to make it easier for consumers to compare policies and prices and to obtain federal tax credits to deray the cost.

President Barack Obama extended open enrollment a few weeks beyond its original closing date last year to accommodate consumers who didn’t finish their applications due to technical glitches at — but an extension is unlikely this year.

“This year there has not been any indication from the Obama administration that they may extend the open enrollment period,” Fangmeier noted. “Sunday seems to be the firm deadline.”

Fangmeier noted penalties will increase for those who go without health coverage in 2015.

Fines will be up to 2 percent of total income, compared with 1 percent during the 2014 tax year.

“The minimum penalty in 2014 was $95 and the minimum penalty for 2015 will be $325,” Fangmeier said. “That’s the minimum penalty — people at higher income levels could pay substantially more than that.”