White House Officials Confirm HealthCare.gov Enrollment Extension
The Obama administration confirmed Tuesday that consumers who have started but cannot complete the coverage application process by March 31 on HealthCare.gov because of technological issues will have until mid-April to do so, the Washington Post reports.
The reprieve will apply only to the three dozen states that are relying on the federal health insurance exchange website to provide residents with new insurance coverage options under the Affordable Care Act.
Details of Enrollment Extension
The extension, or special enrollment period, will rely on an honor system, meaning that applicants do not need to prove that they encountered difficulties while trying to complete their applications. To request the enrollment extension, consumers will need to check a newly created box on the website (Goldstein, Washington Post, 3/25).
Officials said the extension is targeted at consumers with "complex or extenuating" circumstances that prevent them from submitting a complete application by the deadline on Monday. The extension will shield such individuals from having to pay a fine with their 2014 taxes. The enrollment process is considered complete when an individual sends his or her first month's premium payment to the insurer. HHS said it is sending emails to applicants who have started enrollment forms encouraging them to complete the forms (Kennedy, USA Today, 3/26).
According to the Post, the additional enrollment time will not be restricted, allowing consumers who wait until the last minute to begin the application process.
An HHS official said the duration of the special enrollment period has not been set, adding that it will depend largely on the number of requests the department receives. The administration also has not indicated how long an applicant will have during the special enrollment period to select a health plan after they have started the application process, the Post reports.
Once the special enrollment period ends, consumers seeking more time to sign up for an exchange plan would have to make a request through one of the federally sponsored call centers, which will grant the additional time on a case-by-case basis, according to the Post (Washington Post, 3/25).
Meanwhile, several states that are operating their own health insurance exchanges have already rolled out similar enrollment period extensions, the New York Times notes.
Although the ability to seek an enrollment extension will benefit some HealthCare.gov users, officials reiterated that the March 31 deadline for all other applicants remains as is.
CMS spokesperson Aaron Albright said, "We are experiencing a surge in demand and are making sure that we will be ready to help consumers who may be in line by the deadline to complete enrollment, either online or over the phone."
Some policy experts and observers welcomed the decision to provide an enrollment extension, noting that it will help the administration reach its enrollment goal.
Brian Haile, senior vice president for health policy at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, said the extension is "a win for uninsured Americans," adding that his firm's "projections indicate that [HHS] can meet its target of six million enrollees on the marketplaces only if it allows individuals to continue to sign up through April 15" (Pear, New York Times, 3/25).
Jon Kingsdale, a health care consultant and former director of Massachusetts' insurance exchange, said, "The whole point of the thing is to get people covered." He added, "In the first year, there has been so much confusion, I think it's only natural there will be people who just don't feel as if they fully understood what the law was and what they were supposed to do and that the opportunity would close" (Washington Post, 3/25).
However, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus criticized the decision to provide the enrollment extension, which he described as another delay for a "failed health care law." He said in a statement, "Another day, another Obamacare delay from the same Obama administration that won't work with Republicans to help Americans suffering from the unintended consequences of the Democrats' failed health care law," adding, "Democrats in leadership may say they are doubling down on Obamacare, but you have to wonder how many more unilateral delays their candidates running in 2014 can withstand" (Fox News, 3/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.