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If you’ve procrastinated about signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, you can breathe a sigh, albeit a brief sigh, of relief.
The Obama administration is granting an extension of sorts, called a “special enrollment period,” to give some folks more time to sign up for health coverage. The administration released details about the extension on Wednesday.
Here’s what we know so far:
- If you try to apply for health insurance on HealthCare.gov but you cannot complete your application by the end of the day on Monday, March 31 — the official deadline — you’ll be given more time to apply. How much more time has not been made clear.
- If you’re applying with a paper application, you must have your application sent in by April 7.
- As long as you make your first payment for the insurance plan you’ve picked by the insurance company’s deadline, your insurance should be in effect on May 1 — even if your application is completed after the March 31 deadline.
Government officials are apparently concerned about a last-minute rush of applications and whether they can be processed on March 31. (See: “10 Things You Need to Know About Obamacare’s March 31 Deadline.”)
According to The Associated Press, Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Aaron Albright said HealthCare.gov had more than 1 million visitors on Monday. And HealthCare.gov’s Twitter account reported that the site had 1.2 million visitors on Tuesday.
The website has a safeguard in place for high traffic, the AP said.
If the site starts seeing very high demand, Albright said technicians have built an advanced queuing system that creates a “waiting room” where people can hold for a short period of time. Consumers can also leave an email address and be invited back when the system is ready.
DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explained the extension to Michigan Fox 2:
“This is not an extension of open enrollment,” Sebelius told Michigan Fox 2. “It is just saying, like you do on Election Day, if you’re in line to vote, we want to make sure you vote.”
Qualifying for an extension sounds easy – simply check a blue box on HealthCare.gov to indicate that you tried to enroll by March 31. Says The Washington Post:
This method will rely on an honor system; the government will not try to determine whether the person is telling the truth. The rules, which will apply to the federal exchanges operating in three dozen states, will essentially create a large loophole even as White House officials have repeatedly said that the March 31 deadline was firm. The extra time will not technically alter the deadline but will create a broad new category of people eligible for what’s known as a special enrollment period.
The move is being cheered by consumer advocates who want as many people as possible to enroll for health insurance, but it’s also come under harsh criticism from Republicans who oppose the law.
Several state-run health insurance exchanges are also taking similar steps, or considering taking action, CNBC said. Cover Oregon and Covered California have both agreed to extensions. Others, like Connecticut’s Access Health CT exchange, have remained firm on the March 31 deadline.
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