Legions of customers of Blue Cross and Blue Shield have been unable to confirm they have health insurance, or have been billed for health insurance plans they never selected.
The state’s largest health insurer says a recently implemented technology upgrade has caused delays in processing Affordable Care Act applications.
The problems forced Blue Cross to extend its payment deadline until 11:59 p.m. Thursday for retroactive coverage effective Jan. 1 to accommodate the affected customers.
Blue Cross does not know how many customers have been swept up in the problem, as some may not be aware that they are not enrolled or are incorrectly enrolled.
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Blue Cross says it sent letters to the affected customers notifying them of the deadline extension, but the insurer was unable to say how many letters were issued.
What is clear is that the issue appeared to be unresolved as the deadline loomed. A number of customers are panicking after not receiving their insurance ID cards and realizing they may be uninsured. Many have expressed their frustrations on the insurer’s Facebook page about being put on hold for hours by the customer service department.
“I am livid,” said Nancy Wills, 61, a Durham resident, who said her Blue Cross plan failed to renew in 2016, and she believes she is without health insurance.
“I’ve got doctors’ appointments rescheduled – I just canceled them because I didn’t have my card yet,” Wills said in a telephone interview. “What if I’m in a car accident or something?”
Wills said her first month’s payment wasn’t deducted from her account until Wednesday, and her insurance cards didn’t arrive in the mail until Thursday.
Others say Blue Cross has drafted money from their bank accounts for insurance policies that they thought they had canceled.
Tim Sosbe, a Jacksonville resident who complained to the N.C. Department of Insurance, warned the agency that “there are no doubt hundreds of people at least who think they are insured and compliant, and will find out the hard way that they are not.” Sosbe said that he was finally able to complete his enrollment on Dec. 31.
Kerry Hall, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Insurance, said Thursday that the agency is monitoring the situation daily.
“BCBS acknowledges to the department the frustration that their customers are having and have kept in touch with us about plans and actions for addressing the customer service issues,” Hall said. “The company is working at identifying the bottlenecks in the phone system and adding capacity as quickly as possible. We received a status report this morning from them and their systems were reported to be up and running.”
Blue Cross is only one of three insurers offering individual coverage in North Carolina under the Affordable Care Act, and the only one that operates in all 100 counties in the state. As of May 2015, the Chapel Hill-based insurer had about 400,000 customers under the ACA, representing about two-thirds of the state’s total ACA enrollment.
The technology debacle recalls the wholesale computer crash in the first year of ACA enrollment, when the federal healthcare.gov website was inoperative for about two months of 2013. At that time, Blue Cross hired contractors and extended operating hours to process a logjam of ACA applications.
This time, the backlog is caused by problems with the insurer’s new customer records system.
“We are in the process of implementing a new customer records system that will allow our customer service representatives to provide more personalized service faster,” Blue Cross said.
Blue Cross is issuing numerous apologies, scheduling weekend phone appointments with customers, and urging them to be patient.
“We have received reports regarding technical issues with our phone lines as well as the website,” the company posted on Facebook. “Our technical team is currently working to resolve all issues as quickly as possible. We will provide an update once we receive notification that all issues are resolved. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.”
Blue Cross said on its website that its call volume is between 400 percent and 500 percent higher than this time last year. The company blamed the backlogs on a technology upgrade.
There are two more enrollment deadlines ahead under the Affordable Care Act.
Jan. 15 is the enrollment deadline for purchasing health insurance effective Feb. 1.
Customers who want health insurance on March 1 must be enrolled by Jan. 31.
The failed activations and delays are affecting customers on individual health insurance plans. Most are under the Affordable Care Act, but other individual plans are also affected.