Conflicting information about deadlines has created confusion for many of Evergreen Health's individual plan members as they scramble to find new health insurance.
The Maryland Insurance Administration barred Evergreen on Dec. 8 from selling individual health plans as it waits for regulators to decide whether it can convert to a for-profit insurer, and it gave Evergreen's thousands of individual members until Dec. 31 to switch to a new plan.
Yet Evergreen sent email and letter notices informing its 9,000 individual members that they needed to choose another insurer's plan by Thursday to ensure they have coverage starting Jan. 1. The insurer's website noted the same Dec. 15 deadline.
That's the same as the deadline for all plans sold by the Maryland exchange for buying coverage that starts at the beginning of the year.
The conflicting deadline dates have added confusion to an already complicated issue.
"I freaked out," said Shelley Sadowsky, 64, who received an email notice from Evergreen on Dec. 9.
Sadowsky, a self-employed attorney from Rockville, rushed to the internet to research her options, saw the insurance administration had given a different deadline and ended her search even more confused.
While Evergreen members have until Dec. 31, insurance regulators would prefer if people didn't wait until the last minute.
Signing up by Dec. 15 would ensure people have insurance cards and confirmation of coverage in hand by the start of the new year, according to the insurance administration.
Evergreen updated its website Monday to clarify instructions for members. The insurer said its original notices to members were approved by the insurance administration.
"We want to do whatever we can to help people with this," said Matt Jablow, a spokesman for Evergreen.
The insurance administration acknowledged Monday that the mixed messages confused consumers, and it posted updated information about key dates to its social media accounts.
"There was definitely confusion between the MIA, Evergreen and the exchange," said Tracy Imm, a spokeswoman for the insurance administration.
About 6,000 people who bought an Evergreen plan through the exchange for 2016 will be automatically enrolled in a comparable plan from a different insurer if they don't make their own choice by the deadline, a move the exchange said will ensure no one loses coverage.
Another 3,000 people who went directly to Evergreen or bought through a broker also have until the end of the month, but they are on their own to choose a plan.
The 29,000 people who have Evergreen insurance through an employer are not affected.
Evergreen is one of the last surviving co-ops — consumer-operated and -oriented plans — set up under the federal Affordable Care Act. Facing mounting financial woes, Evergreen said in October it would be acquired by an unnamed group of investors and convert to a for-profit insurer, which requires approval from state regulators and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. pulled Evergreen from the individual market only after it became clear it would not get approval in time to provide coverage Jan. 1.
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"The balance we tried to achieve was to give them as much time as possible to complete their work with the federal government and get them on the exchange," Redmer said at the time. "By waiting until the absolute last minute — probably past the last minute — we now have the challenge of getting these folks re-enrolled in just a couple weeks."
For Sadowsky, the extension is worthless.
She and her husband had planned a quick getaway to West Virginia and won't return until Tuesday. Unsure whether she'd have two days or more than two weeks to pick a new plan, she called her husband's office Monday morning and asked them to add her to his plan.
Sadowsky didn't qualify for a subsidy through the exchange, so she bought her plan directly from Evergreen and was at risk of losing it if she didn't make another choice. Her husband's family plan is an expensive alternative she avoided in the past by buying an individual policy, but it's at least something, she said.
"Quite honestly, I might have tried to do a little more investigation about something else that's available, but I just decided I've got to do it," she said.