ObamaCare sign-ups to start earlier in 2016

The Obama administration is moving up next year’s healthcare enrollment period by about three weeks, designating Jan. 31 as the last day to sign up.

Enrollment would begin Nov. 1, instead of Nov. 15, and would last three months, according to a final rule released late Friday.

The earlier sign-up period would mean that ObamaCare enrollment no longer coincides with tax season — two periods that became tightly linked this spring as people are forced to pay tax penalties for being uninsured for the first time. 

The Obama administration announced Friday that it would add an extra enrollment period between March 15 and April 30 to allow uninsured people to chance to sign up if they only learned about the penalty after the deadline.

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Administration officials stressed that the 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.

Healthcare advocates have long called for an enrollment period that extends through the spring, warning that outreach is tougher during the winter holidays. Insurers have lobbied for earlier enrollment periods that align more closely with fiscal years to simplify enrollment.

HHS had proposed last fall that the enrollment period begin Oct 1. and run through Dec. 15, which would have shortened the sign-up season by about two weeks.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will also ensure that rate hikes are subject to public review, which officials said will boost transparency and protect customers from “unreasonable rate increases.”

HHS will also extend its “good faith compliance policy” for insurance companies through the end of 2015. Companies that do not meet standards would be given technical assistance instead of being slapped with a fine.

The administration wrote that it is committed to giving insurers the opportunity to learn from their experiences “without undue concern about being subject to formal enforcement action,” it wrote in the notice.

Another rule gives states an extension on an ObamaCare policy requiring that “high risk pool” coverage matches the federal definition of “minimum essential coverage.”

Under ObamaCare, the high-risk pool coverage was accepted as minimum coverage for one year as a transition period, a policy that some advocates have proposed to make permanent.