White House stretches health care sign-up deadline again

New York TimesDecember 24, 2013 

— The Obama administration said Tuesday that it would provide more time for people to sign up for health insurance if they could show that they missed the Tuesday deadline for applications because of problems with the federal health care website.

In effect, the administration was stretching the deadline once again, after a last-minute surge of interest among people seeking coverage. The administration hailed what it described as “amazing interest” in new health insurance options and said the federal website alone received 2 million visits Monday.

The original deadline was Dec. 15 for people to sign up for coverage that takes effect in January; it was later extended by eight days. On Monday, the White House added a 24-hour grace period, to 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

Then Tuesday, in another bid to expand coverage, the administration provided details of a “special enrollment period” for people who would miss the deadline.

“If you weren’t able to enroll in an insurance plan by Dec. 23 because of problems you had using HealthCare.gov, you still may be able to get coverage that starts Jan. 1” on a case-by-case basis, the administration told visitors to the website. “Even though we have passed the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for coverage starting Jan. 1, we don’t want you to miss out if you’ve been trying to enroll.

“Sometimes despite your best efforts, you might have run into delays caused by heavy traffic to HealthCare.gov, maintenance periods, or other issues with our systems that prevented you from finishing the process on time. If this happened to you, don’t worry – we still may be able to help you get covered as soon as Jan. 1.”

Those who try to sign up for the first time after the deadline passes can still get coverage, but it won’t start until Feb. 1.

Republicans said the latest move showed that President Barack Obama was desperate to increase enrollment, widely seen as a measure of the success of the health care law.

For their part, administration officials said the move was a common-sense response to heavy website traffic, which they cited as evidence of the need for more affordable insurance.

About 48 million Americans are estimated to be uninsured.

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