The agency running California's health insurance exchange extended the deadline for payments until Jan. 15 following a surge in the number of consumers signing up for coverage.
Covered California said on its website that health coverage still took effect Jan. 1 but the payment deadline was pushed back to prevent consumers from feeling rushed to pay recently received invoices.
It will also give health care companies more time to process paperwork, the agency said.
The agency says payments must be received by Jan. 15, not just postmarked before that date.
The nine-day, one-time payment extension comes after the number of consumers signing up for insurance on California's exchange jumped late last year, overwhelming the agency's website and call centers.
In late December, Covered California said more than 400,000 people had signed up for policies through the exchange, up from 109,000 at the end of November.
The payment extension trails the troubled rollout of the federal health law across the country. Consumers have until March 31 to get health care coverage and avoid a federal tax penalty in 2014.
Late last month, Californians jammed phone lines trying to get information from the state's insurance exchange and reported running into glitches when trying to pay for coverage online.
Kaiser Permanente, which is still processing enrollment files, had already granted a similar payment extension before Covered California's announcement. The state's biggest HMO said enrollees can make medical appointments and receive care even if they have not yet received an invoice.
"We want everyone who completed an application by the enrollment deadline to receive our high-quality care and services," Ken Hunter, senior vice president of Kaiser's insurance exchange operations, told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1iGlgpv).