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The Obama administration on Monday reported a “record day” for visits to HealthCare.gov as it extended the deadline for enrolling in coverage by 24 hours.
Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said about 850,000 people had visited HealthCare.gov as of 2 p.m. on Monday, with high traffic numbers expected to continue into the afternoon and evening.
The surge of visitors came on what was supposed to be the cutoff date for obtaining ObamaCare coverage that takes effect on Jan 1.
But in the latest delay to the law, the administration announced people who have begun the enrollment process would actually have until Christmas Eve to complete it.
The change was ostensibly aimed only at those who began the enrollment process on Monday, but administration officials did not definitively say whether those who initiate an application for the first time on Tuesday would be locked out, or whether they would still be eligible to enroll for coverage beginning on Jan. 1.
“Anticipating high demand and the fact that consumers may be enrolling from multiple time zones, we have taken steps to make sure that those who select a plan through tomorrow will get coverage for Jan 1,” Bataille said.
The Obama administration had long predicted a crush of interest in the days and hours leading up to enrollment deadlines, and is now hoping for an eleventh hour surge to make up for lost time.
President Obama is keeping tabs on the effort from Hawaii and received a “detailed update” over the weekend on the preparations that were made to keep the ObamaCare website functioning.
"He was briefed on the efforts to ensure that the website could handle the large amount of traffic that was predicted and on efforts to ensure a smooth transition on Jan. 1," an official said.
The erratic website appeared to adequately handle Monday’s traffic demands, as CMS reported HealthCare.gov produced low error rates and response times for users.
Still, the website’s backup queuing system was deployed to handle the high volume. About 60,000 people were instructed through the system to provide an email address so they could be notified to return at a later time.
The mounting interest in HealthCare.gov indicates enrollments are on a positive trajectory after two months of website problems that frustrated users.
Obama said Friday that more than 500,000 people had signed up at HealthCare.gov in the first three weeks of December, a major spike for the troubled website.
The 500,000 figure outpaced the total number of enrollments for October and November combined and brought the number of people enrolled in ObamaCare to more than 1 million.
Still, the Department of Health and Human Services is likely to fall well short of its goal of having 3.3 million people signed up by the end of 2013. Administration officials have said they remain optimistic they’ll reach their goal of 7 million by the end of the second enrollment deadline on March 31.
Monday’s enrollment extension was just the latest delay in a string of unilateral, last minute changes to the law that have frustrated the insurance industry and outraged Republicans on Capitol Hill.
And while the administration is trying to ensure that individuals on the exchanges have the coverage they want on Jan. 1, it remains to be seen whether the back end of the federal website would process their applications correctly.
The CMS has said that at various times since Oct. 1, up to 25 percent of enrollment transmissions sent from HealthCare.gov to insurers were either garbled or contained bad data.
The bad transmissions are being reconciled manually, and likely number in the tens of thousands. The administration says these errors have been reduced significantly, but insurers still face a labor-intensive process with only a week to go before coverage is scheduled to begin.
“We continue to work with insurers to confirm enrollment and inform consumers on their next steps to ensure that they are covered,” Bataille said in her report.
The administration also needs consumers who have enrolled for coverage to make their first premium payments to finalize the process. Those payments were due by Jan. 1, but many insurers, at the request of the administration, are now accepting payments as late as Jan. 10.