The Obama administration has delayed until Tuesday the sign-up deadline for some people seeking healthcare plans through the federal exchanges.
Monday was supposed to be the last day to sign up for coverage that starts Jan. 1, but an administration official said people who have started the enrollment process will have until Christmas Eve to complete it.
“The deadline for signing up for coverage to start January 1 is today. We recognize that many have chosen to make their final decisions on today’s deadline and we are committed to making sure they can do so,” said Julie Bataille, the director of the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Service’s (CMS) Office of Communication.
“Anticipating high demand and the fact that consumers may be enrolling from multiple time zones, we have taken steps to make sure that those who select a plan through tomorrow will get coverage for Jan 1.”
White House officials are hoping for an eleventh-hour surge in enrollment to help make up for the time that was lost in October, when the federal site HealthCare.gov was beset by glitches and crashes.
The administration said Monday was a record day for Internet traffic at HealthCare.gov, and that “thousands” were visiting and enrolling. The website’s back-up queuing system has been deployed to handle the high volume of traffic.
Still, White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri said consumers shouldn’t take the deadline extension to mean that they could initiate the enrollment process for the first time on Tuesday.
“People should not think that they can get on the website tomorrow for the first time and try to enroll, that would be a dangerous thing to do,” she told MSNBC. “What we’re trying to do is encourage everyone to continue and go to the website today.”
One administration official likened the deadline change to Election Day, when those who are in line when the polls close are still allowed to vote.
People who miss the first ObamaCare enrollment period will have another chance to sign up at the start of 2014, with the final deadline arriving in March.
Monday's announcement marks the second time the Obama administration has pushed back the cut-off date for those seeking coverage that starts in January. The original deadline of Dec. 15 was moved to Dec. 23 after the troubled launch of HealthCare.gov.
The administration official said the latest change was made in consultation with insurers, who have opposed many of the last-minute extensions that the Obama administration has ordered.
Robert Zirkelbach a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, said insurers have grown accustomed to accommodating the administration’s late changes to the law.
"Health plans will continue to do everything they can to help consumers through the enrollment process and mitigate potential confusion or disruption caused by all of these last minute changes to the rules and deadlines,” he told The Hill in a statement.
Last week, AHIP announced it would voluntarily give ObamaCare policyholders more time to pay their first premiums, although the move came in response to a request from the Obama administration.
The administration has made a string of unilateral changes to the healthcare law this month.
Last week, the administration relaxed ObamaCare's mandate for people to have insurance. It said it would allow individuals whose health insurance was canceled to buy catastrophic plans that had once been intended mainly for young people.
The administration has also required insurers to accept premium payments through Dec. 31, pushed back the sign-up date for those seeking coverage by April 1 by six weeks, and delayed the second-year enrollment period until after the 2014 elections.
— This story was first posted at 12:18 p.m. and has been updated.