By Jonathan Easley - 03/26/14 03:57 PM EDT
The Obama administration left itself plenty of leeway with its latest unilateral change to ObamaCare.
The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) said this week it would extend the March 31 open enrollment deadline for people who say they tried to sign up for insurance coverage on the new exchanges but failed to complete the process on time.
Bataille declined to answer directly when asked if the attestation would be audited, if there would be a penalty for lying, if the administration believed it would turn someone away who is seeking an extension, or if the administration was essentially using the “honor system” to determine whether consumers made a good-faith effort to enroll.
“The reality is that consumers have to attest to the fact that they’re eligible for this coverage and made an attempt to enroll ... most people are truthful when applying for these benefits,” Bataille said.
In addition, the administration is leaving the deadline for late enrollees open-ended — the CMS has not set a final day for when those who say they have extenuating circumstances must apply.
The CMS posted a notice of the rule change on its website Wednesday, but it only addresses the circumstances under which someone might qualify for the late enrollment period. It includes events like medical emergencies, receiving misinformation from a navigator, technical errors on the website and domestic abuse, among others things.
With this latest extension, the administration is merely seeking to accommodate users who may experience difficulties during this late surge, Bataille said.
“We’re not going to shut the door on people trying to get coverage who were unable to through no fault of their own,” Bataille said.
The administration is adamant that open enrollment still ends on March 31 and continues to publicize the date as the last chance most people will have to get coverage this year. At a hearing earlier this month, Health and Human Services 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.
Bataille argued that such extensions are “a longstanding practice on the Medicare side,” and that the administration was seeking to clarify the circumstances under which a person might qualify for the special enrollment period.
The CMS says the federal marketplace is experiencing “a period of unprecedented demand,” with 1.2 million visits to HealthCare.gov on Tuesday alone and more than half a million calls to its call centers.
Bataille said the administration had geared up to deal with the ongoing crush of new consumers, but that “just like Election Day, we won’t close the polls to you if you were in line.”
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,” who might otherwise have to pay the penalty associated with the individual mandate because they missed the deadline.
Republicans are furious, calling the extensions “lawless” and saying it’s unfair that some groups have to comply with pre-determined deadlines but not others.
“What the hell is this, a joke?” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) asked at his weekly press conference on Wednesday.
“I’ve got to live by the law, you’ve got to live by the law, and guess what? The president has to live by the law as well,” Boehner concluded before leaving the event.