Obama Administration Makes Secretive Last-Minute Deadline Change to Obamacare



Deadlines? Who needs 'em? Not when it comes to Obamacare anyway. Today was set to be the final day to sign up for coverage that begins on January 1 of next year. But the administration has quietly extended that deadline by an additional 24 hours. And by quietly, I mean, with no official announcement at all. News of the delay comes from two unnamed sources who confirmed the move to The Washington Post.

At midnight Monday, the official deadline arrives for Americans to sign up through the new federal health insurance exchange for health plans that begin Jan. 1. But, without any public announcement, Obama administration officials have changed the rules so that people will have an extra day to enroll, according to two individuals with knowledge of the switch.

Over the weekend, government officials and outside IT contractors working on the online marketplace's computer system made a software change that automatically gives people a Jan. 1 start date for their new coverage as long as they enroll by 11:59 p.m. on Christmas Eve. 

The administration had already delayed the deadline by a week; the original plan had been to cut off sign ups on December 15. But when it comes to Obamacare, the administration sticks to its original plans about as well as the average person sticks to his or her New Year's resolutions. Obamacare's deadlines are aspirational more than they are operational. 

Following the rocky rollout of Obamacare's online exchanges, and low sign-up numbers in the federal exchange system, the administration tacked an extra week on for potential enrollees. The move comes after an announcement late last Thursday night that individuals whose existing health plans were canceled as a result of the health law would be exempt from the individual mandate to purchase health insurance next year.  

Not to put too fine a point on it, this is a weird move: delaying the deadline…and not telling anyone? Not officially anyway. Even if you count the leaks to The Post as an announcement, it's an awfully strange way to set up an extension.

The last-minute timing is also rather telling. The change was made over the weekend, just before the last to sign up, right before a holiday week in which not many people are reading the news. That sounds an awful lot like the administration is nervous about sign-up numbers so far and is looking for way to nudge the totals a little bit higher without looking too desperate.

But desperate, and perhaps slightly panicked, is exactly how this looks. With lots of plan cancellations on the horizon, and sign up numbers running far short of what was projected prior to the launch of the exchanges, the administration appears to be grasping for some way to keep the law's potential failures at bay. Hence the slew of late-breaking amendments and updates we've seen over the past few weeks. 

Remember that just a couple weeks ago, when the administration announced another set of Obamacare-related deadline changes, a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services refused to say that the administration was confident that more people would gain coverage next January than lose it. Secretive, last-minute changes like this don't exactly suggest that the administration's confidence has increased since then. Neither should anyone else's.