If you’ve started applying for health insurance through the government website but haven’t finished by the March 31 deadline, the Obama administration has good news for you: You can take a couple more weeks to get your application completed.
In a move sure to be widely derided by Republicans, who appear to hate anything attached to Obamacare, the administration confirmed yesterday that it will extend the March 31 deadline for anyone who had already started the process but couldn’t finish because of possible glitches in the system, or because they were trying to figure out whether they qualify for subsidies, or a myriad of other reasons.
The extension will last until mid-April, but federal officials say the exact date depends on the number of people who need the extensions. The move was an attempt by the administration to be prepared for the flood of applicants it is expecting right before the Monday deadline — people who might be influenced by the aggressive marketing push by celebrities like NBA superstar Lebron James.
While consumer advocates hailed the attempt by the government to sign up as many people as possible, opponents of the Affordable Care Act predictably used the extension as another opportunity to attack the controversial law.
“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 healthcare law,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “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.”
The White House is getting closer to its enrollment goal of 6 million people — as of mid-March, 5 million had enrolled. The last-minute interest is evidenced by the fact that the HealthCare.gov site logged 1.1 million visitors on Monday, its second-busiest traffic day.
“The whole point of the thing is to get people covered,” said Jon Kingsdale, a health care consultant and former director of Massachusetts’s insurance exchange, which was the first in the country, opening several years before the federal law set up a similar national marketplace. “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.”
To qualify for the extension, an applicant need only check a blue box on HealthCare.gov to indicate that they tried to enroll before the deadline. According to a report in the Washington Post, the government will take the applicant’s word and not bother trying to confirm if they indeed had tried to enroll before the Monday deadline.
The extension is also being granted by many of the state exchanges. For example, Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon have all announced similar extensions, while Nevada is considering it, according to published reports.
“We 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,” said Julie Bataille, director of the office of communications for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency overseeing the federal health-care exchange.
Americans who fail to get health insurance will face a tax penalty when they file their taxes. After mid-April, the grounds for an extension will become narrower, such as having a new baby, getting a divorce, or losing a job with health insurance. Though at that point, the government will still trust people to tell the truth about why they need more time. The government calls this “self-attestation.”