- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Obama administration said Tuesday that it will give extra time to Americans who say they are enrolling in Obamacare through the federal insurance marketplace but haven’t completed the process by the March 31 deadline.

Administration officials said Tuesday night that consumers who have started to apply for coverage but don’t finish by Monday will have a few more weeks to do so.

Health and Human Services Department spokeswoman Joanne Peters said, “We are experiencing a surge in demand and are making sure that we will be ready to help consumers who may be in line by the deadline to complete enrollment — either online or over the phone.”

An administration official said the grace period is “similar to what we did to accommodate people in December,” when consumers were given an extension for coverage that began Jan. 1.

“Our systems will allow individuals with special circumstances and complex cases to receive help completing the enrollment process outside of open enrollment,” the official said. “These opportunities already exist, and we will issue guidance that clarifies a limited number of situations where we would accommodate people with complex or extenuating circumstances.”

The official said the Affordable Care Act “has accounted for these sorts of circumstances.”

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Under the grace period, applicants will be able to qualify for an extension by checking a box on the HealthCare.gov website to indicate that they tried to enroll before the deadline.

The rule will apply to the federal exchanges operating in three dozen states and is the latest waiver offered by an administration that has repeatedly insisted the March 31 deadline was firm.

The White House said as recently as last week that it was sticking by the March 31 deadline for enrolling in Obamacare, but states were forging plans to try to find wiggle room that could let Americans complete their sign-ups months after the “drop-dead” date.

Maryland’s health care exchange announced a plan to give consumers who begin the process but fail to sign up by the end of March extra time to complete their enrollments. Nevada’s exchange said it will consider a similar 60-day grace period.

The March 31 deadline is the most pressing one yet facing the Affordable Care Act, which has been subjected to a series of delays and waivers and postponements by the administration. President Obama and his top aides have been scrambling in recent weeks to promote enrollment more aggressively, reaching out especially to young people who are needed to make the program work financially.

Across the country, many uninsured people have said they still don’t know much about the health care overhaul and the deadline for enrolling.

An Associated Press-GfK poll found that only one-fourth of the uninsured had tried to sign up through the state or federal insurance marketplaces, also known as exchanges, by late January. If they don’t enroll in time, many will face a fine and be locked out of the subsidized plans until next year.

Administration officials have lowered their target for enrollment recently from 7 million to about 5 million people by Monday.

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