Nevada may push back deadline for health insurance signup

The state’s insurance exchange mightoffer a reprieve to Nevadans who have had trouble buying coverage.

The Silver State Health Insurance Exchange board today will consider extending the deadline to enroll in plans through its Nevada Health Link website. Exchange spokesman CJ Bawden said the extension would be a special enrollment session for consumers who have tried and failed to get covered through the site.

The special enrollment period could last for as long as 60 days. To qualify, people will have to prove they started the application process before March 31 and were unable to sign up.

The discussion of pushing out the deadline for some Nevadans comes as the March 31 close looms on the inaugural open-enrollment period for coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Sign-ups kicked off Oct. 1, but technical issues and an understaffed call center hampered enrollments to well below expectations. About 21,000 Nevadans had bought and paid for coverage as of Saturday. The exchange is enrolling as many as 1,000 customers a week; at that pace, sign-ups could max out at around 25,000 on March 31. That’s 21.2 percent of the exchange’s original target of 118,000, and half of a revised goal of 50,000.

“Individuals have been battling the Web portal on Nevada Health Link since Oct. 1. Many continue to try and enroll every day, and there are still errors and glitches that prevent them from finalizing enrollment in a (qualified health plan) they selected months ago,” a board report released Wednesday said. “Furthermore, many individuals have a desperate need to receive medical attention and are accumulating medical debt that was supposed to be shared by insurance carriers if they could get enrolled.”

Setting a special enrollment period could streamline requests for more time from consumers who had technical trouble buying coverage, the report said.

But it has potential downsides: If the website is still experiencing big technical issues, sign-ups would remain low even in the period.

“This may result in a lack of return-on-investment and a waste of current resources at the expense of future fixes,” the report said.

Retroactive enrollment could also “disrupt the risk pool” and cause approved premiums for 2014 both on and off of the exchange to be insufficient, the report added.

Plus, it said the special period would delay insurers’ ability to evaluate risk pools and possible losses for 2015, and that could make them less willing to participate in the exchange next year.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.