Deadline for health care enrollment open-ended

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The Obama administration said Wednesday that it doesn’t know how many people will take advantage of the latest extension to buy insurance on the health care exchanges, in a move that signals just how determined President Obama is to make his law’s economics work.

The extension, which the administration leaked Tuesday and officially announced Wednesday, says those who tried to enroll before the March 31 deadline can have more time to finish their applications on the federally run exchanges.

Officials, though, said they won’t be checking to see whether people actually tried to enroll, which means anyone can use the extension. The officials also left the cutoff date open-ended, meaning it’s not clear when the final deadline will be.

“What the hell — is this, a joke?” House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Wednesday.

Critics complained bitterly about Mr. Obama’s latest decision to alter parts of the law that his own party pushed through Congress.

The enrollment deadline had been extended from Feb. 15 to March 31. Now, the deadline is unclear.

It could “take a few days, it could take a week or so” to help those in line complete the process, said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who likened the waiting consumers to voters who are still in line at the time polls are supposed to close.

She said people tend to follow the rules, so she expects those who claim the extension to have honestly made an effort to sign up earlier.

“I think it’s also important to recognize that this is an official federal application for marketplace coverage,” Ms. Bataille said. “Most people are truthful when applying for those benefits.”

The administration took similar steps late last year to extend deadlines to help those rushing to have coverage by Jan. 1.

Several states that run their own health care exchanges have announced similar initiatives.

The Silver State Exchange in Nevada last week approved a 60-day special enrollment period for people who run into technical problems while using the insurance portals before Monday, exchange spokesman C.J. Bawden said.

Oregon announced Wednesday that it would give residents an extra month to sign up for coverage on the state-run exchange, according to news reports. Oregon’s exchange has been plagued with problems, including a website that still isn’t running properly six months into the enrollment period.

Congressional Republicans swiftly condemned the federal extension as yet another attempt to smooth over the wobbly rollout of Mr. Obama’s signature initiative.

Democrats argued that President George W. Bush made a similar move when he rolled out his Medicare prescription drug program.

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