Harsh health insurance deadlines raise concerns - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Harsh health insurance deadlines raise concerns

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Blue Cross Blue Shield pulled out of 74 counties in Georgia last year, leaving many counties with only one health insurance option and prices they can't afford. Chatham County was one of these counties, and was left with only Ambetter.

Millions of Georgians have placed calls to insurance providers over the last several months because they either can't afford the health insurance offered, or the only plan offered in their area is inadequate. Local insurance agent Bill Lucas says the insurance companies are also scrambling because everyone in America has a hard deadline of Jan 1, which sends their staff overboard.

"It's the most ridiculous thing that anyone has ever created. Can you imagine if everybody's car tag renewed on January 1?" Lucas said. "That's what they've done now to the insurance business."

Most people recommended insurance companies hire more folks to process the applications. Lucas said employees need years of experience before they can do the job.

"You can't train somebody with a 6-week course and hire them part-time during open enrollment," he said. "This is why so many people don't have their insurance cards."

There was also a lot of buzz about how people registered faster than ever before for health insurance for this year.  Lucas believes that is a false perspective. He said open enrollment used to be 120 days. Insurance companies dropped that time frame to 45 days, which forced people to hurry up and register, but left a lot of people without enough time.

"At the end, fewer people bought individual policies than did last year," he said.

Open enrollment is finished and you should have a plan for 2018, but Lucas said you would be surprised at how many still don't.

Breaking it down

Counties surrounding Chatham County only have Blue Cross Blue Shield as an individual plan provider. The time to enroll and pay the premium has ended. Individuals in Chatham County only have Ambetter as a health insurance individual plan provider. The deadline to enroll was Dec. 15 of 2017, but you have until midnight January 31 of 2018 to pay your premium. Lucas said the extension goes back to the company needing more time to process such a large amount of customers.

There is an exception for Chatham County residents if they were previously enrolled in a Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance plan before the company left the county. Those residents have 60 days - that's until Feb. 1 - to enroll and pay for Ambetter.

Lucas said these restrictions will send people running to work for companies just so they can get on group insurance. He said ,if benefits become a top priority for workers, then businesses might shift their focus as well.

"If you don't offer benefits, you might not be getting the cream of the crop employees," Lucas said.

He believes this is a tug-of-war that will only continue to yank on the health of our nation. 

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