Thousands of Coloradans who enrolled in health insurance plans through the state's new exchange have yet to make their first payment - leaving unfinished a critical step for ensuring coverage. Insurance companies across

Colorado reported receiving payments from only 60 percent to 70 percent of their newly enrolled clients as of Friday's deadline, said Marc Reece, with the Colorado Association of Health Plans. The low figures prompted many insurance carriers to extend their payment due date while working overtime to process new enrollments.

"It's just a volume issue," Reece said. "It's just the numbers - which is a good thing. It's a good problem to have.

The figure varies between companies, and it did not include shoppers whose checks were in the mail Friday, Reece said.

Monthly insurance payments - called premiums - are critical this time of the year because newly purchased insurance plans don't activate until shoppers pay their first bill.

Originally, shoppers needed to pay that first bill by Jan. 1 for plans that began on New Year's Day. But repeated enrollment deadline extensions led insurance carriers to extend the payment deadline to last Friday - meaning customers could pay later and still seek reimbursement for any care sought in the meantime.

Placing added pressure on the marketplace and carriers was a massive rush of procrastinators seeking coverage. More than half of the nearly 52,800 people who enrolled in exchange-based plans through Dec. 31 did so during the last two weeks of December, exchange officials reported.

Connect for Health Colorado has had no problem sending enrollee information to carriers, said Ben Davis, an exchange spokesman.

With enrollments stacking up, some companies have extended that deadline even further.

"Carriers know that not all the invoices got out in a manner in which it would be easy to pay by the 10th," Reece said. "And so they're not trying to drive anybody away because of a missed deadline."

Anthem and Humana, for example, extended their payment deadlines until Jan. 31, though neither commented on how many newly enrolled clients have paid so far. Kaiser extended its deadline until Jan. 22 for plans that became effective Jan. 1.

Alamosa-based Colorado Choice Health Plans extended its deadline until Jan. 25 amid a rush of enrollments at the end of the year. Through Sunday, the carrier received payments from 83 percent of its new enrollees, said Cindy Palmer, the carrier's chief executive.

"We had our billing and enrollment and sales folks working all weekend to kind of put a stake in the ground," Palmer said.



People who missed the first deadline for health insurance coverage through the state’s new exchange continued seeking plans in January, Connect for Health Colorado officials reported Monday.

Enrollments totaled 58,514 through Saturday, largely because 500 to 800 people signed up for plans each weekday in January, said Patty Fontneau, the exchange’s chief executive.

“We’ve been very pleased with the ongoing enrollments,” Fontneau said during the exchange’s board meeting Monday.

People who wanted health insurance coverage to begin on Jan. 1 needed to enroll by Dec. 27 — a deadline that brought a rush of enrollments in late December.

But those who missed that deadline can enroll by midnight Wednesday for coverage that begins Feb. 1.

The period of time that people can sign up for plans later in 2014 — called open enrollment — ends March 31, meaning that shoppers have until that date to enroll if they want coverage this year.

Fontneau said that 49 percent of the people who enrolled in insurance plans through Dec. 31 did not receive federal subsidies to help offset the cost of coverage. Even if they didn’t apply for a subsidy, people making between 138 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level can later seek those savings via a tax refund.

Of the people who enrolled during the exchange’s first three months of business, 38 percent enrolled in a Bronze plan — which is cheaper but with fewer benefits — while 46 percent enrolled in a mid-range Silver plan; 13 percent enrolled in a Gold plan; and 1 percent enrolled in a Platinum plan, which has the most benefits and costs the most.

An additional 2 percent of Coloradans enrolled in “catastrophic” plans, which are cheapest, but include bare-bones coverage, Fontneau said. She said some Bronze and Silver plans are cheaper than “catastrophic” plans when factoring in federal subsidies.

Also, 80,696 Coloradans had signed up through Saturday for expanded Medicaid coverage, Fontneau said.