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Computer illiteracy

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Republicans would have criticized the administration if it did not grant more time to enrollees who encounter technical hiccups.

He also offered a novel reason for the allowance: Some people do not use computers.

“We have a lot of people just like this,” said Mr. Reid, recounting the story of a Connecticut woman who needed in-person help. “No, it’s through no fault of the Internet, because people are not educated to how to use the Internet.”

Republicans said they are particularly upset because Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Congress this month that she lacked the authority to extend the long-standing cutoff date of March 31 to qualify for government-subsidized insurance this year.

Administration officials repeatedly said the deadline to enroll for private coverage on — the portal that serves three dozen states — is still Monday and that they are gearing up for high demand.

The website received 1.2 million visits and the federal call center got 390,000 calls Tuesday, and the portal can handle 100,000 users at the same time, said Kurt DelBene, a senior HHS adviser tapped this year to oversee and replace management consultant Jeff Zients, who oversaw last year’s “tech surge” to correct the website’s glitches.

But the administration’s decision to let people self-attest that they tried to sign up by the deadline raises questions about how the federal government will know whether consumers are telling the truth.

It follows an exemption the administration added that lets Americans claim “hardship” and duck the individual mandate requiring them to have insurance coverage.

‘Swiss cheese’

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the administration has provided so much leeway that the individual mandate — a linchpin of the law that requires most Americans to hold insurance — has “basically become the legal equivalent of Swiss cheese.”

As it stood, the health care law allowed the administration to make exceptions for people who wanted to sign up or alter their coverage status on the federal exchange — outside of the normal open-enrollment period — because of technical errors or a major life event, such as the birth of a child, a divorce or the loss of employer-based insurance.

Without such an exception, a person who does not seek coverage by Monday would have to wait until enrollment opens again in mid-November to seek a plan on the Obamacare marketplace and potential government subsidies to defray the cost of premiums.

Timothy Jost, a health care policy analyst at Washington and Lee University School of Law, said the administration’s approach should not surprise anyone because it signaled it would not shut out people who make an effort to enroll by the deadline.

“They really could have done a better job explaining what the rules are,” he said, but “I don’t think they’re breaking or bending any rules.”