ObamaCare deadline extended for 'special circumstances and complex cases'

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The Obama administration will extend the March 31 open enrollment deadline for people who say they tried to sign-up for coverage on the new healthcare exchanges but failed to complete the process on time.

“Open enrollment ends March 31,” Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters told The Hill in an email Tuesday evening. “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.”

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Those that try to sign up, but miss the March 31 deadline, can appeal for an extension that will allow them to complete the enrollment process into mid-April.

The Washington Post first reported the planned rule change, which federal officials will announce on Wednesday.

The administration did something similar at the end of 2013, when a flood of consumers sought last-minute coverage for the New Year. Back then, the website’s functionality was still in question, and there were fears that HealthCare.gov might not be able to accommodate the surge in traffic.

This go-round, the administration is seeking to accommodate those “with special circumstances and complex cases,” that might otherwise have to pay the penalty associated with the individual mandate because they missed the deadline.

An official said the rule change would apply to only a “limited number of situations.” However, the Washington Post report says the appeals process will run on the “honor system,” and that consumers need only claim they tried to sign-up before the deadline to be granted an extension.

At a hearing earlier this month, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ruled out the possibility that the administration would extend the March 31 deadline. While Tuesday’s rule change only provides extra time for some, the GOP has been arguing for months that the unilateral changes to the law create double-standards.

“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 move is likely to infuriate other Republicans who are fed up with the administration’s changes to the law.

This story was updated at 10:44 p.m.