ObamaCare enrollment to reopen

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The Obama administration will hold a second enrollment period for the federal insurance exchanges this year to give people a chance to avoid a new tax penalty for going without insurance.

The enrollment period will run from March 15 to April 30, at the height of tax filing season, officials said.

Congressional Democrats and advocacy groups had been pushing for the new enrollment period, arguing that millions of people are still unaware of the penalty and should be able to sign up for health insurance once they learn of it.

Republicans have been largely silent on the issue, but the administration has, in the past, received criticism for changing deadlines surrounding ObamaCare.

"Our intention in doing this is not to increase numbers for numbers sake, it's to make sure that if there were people who were unaware of the fee that they aren't disadvantaged by that," Andy Slavitt, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' deputy administrator, said on a call with reporters.

Numbers for the first sign-up period, which ended Sunday, were better than expected, with 11.4 million people enrolled in the program.

The administration estimates that up to 6 million people could be forced to pay the fine for not having insurance during this year's tax season, which marks the first time that the penalty will be in effect. Officials said that they do not have an estimate for how many people they expect to take advantage of the new enrollment period.

People signing up now will still have to pay a penalty for lacking insurance in 2014. Anyone who was uninsured last year will be hit with penalties of either $95 or 1 percent of their income — whichever is higher. That fine will spike this year to $325 or 2 percent of their income.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who had urged the administration to extend sign-ups, quickly praised the move Friday.

“We should take every opportunity to encourage families to enroll in affordable, quality health insurance,” Doggett wrote in a statement. “Taxpayers seeing the financial consequences of being uninsured will be able to enroll for coverage sooner instead of being forced to wait for the next enrollment period.”

While an added enrollment period could raise concerns that a higher proportion of sick people will sign up, driving up premiums, the health insurance company trade group America's Health Insurance Plans weighed in to support the move.

“Given that this is a new process for consumers, this targeted special enrollment period is a sensible approach for those who qualify," said Clare Krusing, a spokeswoman for the group.  

Officials stressed that the new grace period would not be an annual occurrence.

"Our intention is that this is one year only for people who have not been in the communication loop around the tax penalty," Slavitt said.

Separately, the administration announced that there had been an error on a tax return form for people with coverage under ObamaCare, causing some tax credits to be calculated either too high or too low.

Officials said the problem affects around 50,000 people who have already filed their taxes, and that they are being contacted to correct the problem. 

— This post was updated at 10:55 a.m.