Grace period for ObamaCare shoppers?

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The White House hinted Friday that consumers who begin their ObamaCare enrollment before March 31 might be given a grace period to finish their applications.

"As was the case for the December deadline, we're going to want to make sure that people who are already in line can finish their enrollment," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. "But for how that process works, I would point you to what happened in December and how that played out."

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In December, the Obama administration gave consumers an additional day to finish signing up for their plans in order to secure coverage by Jan 1. 

A representative for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency facilitating the federal exchange, said the grace period was offered to accommodate people from different time zones and to account for any technical problems the site might incur.

Traffic to the site rapidly increased ahead of the December deadline, increasing fivefold from the previous Monday. Administration officials are predicting a similar surge ahead in the final days of March.

If consumers don't buy insurance on the exchange then, they'll be unable to do so until enrollment reopens in November.

"We certainly expect, naysayers notwithstanding, that there's going to be continued interest right up to the deadline, and that interest will probably increase as we approach the deadline," Carney said.

Still, the press secretary stressed that March 31 remained the deadline to enroll.

The White House is hoping a surge in late enrollments can help erase some of the damage done by the technical problems that plagued the first months of the ObamaCare exchanges. Earlier this month, the administration announced 5 million consumers had enrolled — below the 7 million initially estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.

"The bigger the number we bank, the more certain there will be ability to turn this back no matter what happens in the Congress, no matter where this moves," Vice President Biden told a conference of community health organizers in New York on Friday morning.