Feds delay approval of ObamaCare insurance plans to mid-September

Federal health officials have pushed back the final approval date for insurance plans that will be sold on ObamaCare's new marketplaces.

The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department told insurance companies Tuesday that it will not sign final agreements related to the plans until mid-September rather than Sept. 5-9.

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The approvals cap a long process for insurance companies hoping to sell their products on the new marketplaces, which are ObamaCare's chief mechanism for providing coverage to the uninsured.

Each of the plans sold must meet specific requirements, and the insurer must sign a special agreement with the federal government in order to participate in the exchanges.

The additional week or two for approval will ensure that technical issues are resolved and plans are displayed correctly in the new marketplaces, according to HHS.

Department spokeswoman Joanne Peters stated that the marketplaces are still "on track to open" this fall despite the modified timetable for finalizing plans.

The adjustment will provide "additional flexibility and time to handle technical requests," she said.

The decision drew criticism from Republicans, including Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

"No train wreck has ever had this many warning signs," Alexander said in a statement Wednesday.

"The avalanche of last-minute delays should make every American anxious about the quality of the health care they'll be able to purchase in October and the security of the information they'll have to provide."

HHS's final push toward Oct. 1, when the exchanges open for business, is being closely watched as officials race to complete tasks related to the marketplaces.

The Obama administration has faced heavy criticism for delays in ObamaCare's rollout, including a decision to defer the employer mandate until 2015. That policy requires larger companies to offer health insurance or face fines.

Officials have also made small adjustments to the rollout timetable, such as extending an April deadline for insurers to apply for the exchanges.

This story was updated at 1:18 p.m.