Obamacare Open Enrollment Deadline Extended for Some

Latest delay


*This post has been updated since publication. 

Federal officials have confirmed that the March 31 deadline for open enrollment on new healthcare exchanges will be pushed back for those who say that they began the enrollment process but did not finish on time.

According to The Washington Post, the extensions will be based on an "honor system":

Under the new rules, people will be able to qualify for an extension by checking a blue box on HealthCare.gov to indicate that they tried to enroll before the deadline. This method will rely on an honor system; the government will not try to determine whether the person is telling the truth.

Wednesday afternoon, health officials reiterated that the March 31 deadline is still the deadline, and the extension is for anybody who tried to register by the deadline and wasn't able to (and also that they will using the "honor system" and assuming people are telling the truth). In an teleconference, officials said they weren't sure how long this extension would last. Again, from The Washington Post:

CMS (The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services) couldn't say what the deadline would be to enroll in coverage for those who had issues before March 31. It depends on what the backlog looks like, CMS spokesperson Julie Bataille said. "It's difficult for us to specify how long a line we may have. … It could take a few days, it could take a week or so."

Those who report experiencing trouble trying to register by the deadline will not be responsible for having to pay any individual mandate penalties for the time they go without coverage.

The Latest Obamacare Delay

This delay is only the latest of a series of delays that have struck President Obama's signature piece of legislation. Politico has a collection of some of the most significant delays so far:

March 25: Final enrollment deadline extended. The March 31 deadline — the end of enrollment for 2014 — will be loosened for people with special sign-up circumstances.

March 14: High risk pools extended. The special, temporary coverage for people with serious pre-existing conditions — which was only supposed to last until the health insurance exchanges were in place — was extended a third time for another month.

Feb. 10: Employer mandate delayed. This time, businesses with between 50 and 100 workers were given until 2016 to offer coverage, and the mandate will be phased in for employers with more than 100 workers.

Jan. 14: High risk pools extended. The high-risk insurance pools, which originally had been slated to close Jan. 1, had already been extended once.

Dec. 24: Enrollment deadline extended. In a message on HealthCare.gov, customers were told they could get help finishing their Jan. 1 applications if they were already in line on Dec. 24.

Dec 12: Enrollment deadline extended. Customers on the federal enrollment website were given nearly two more weeks to sign up for coverage effective Jan. 1.

Nov. 27: SHOP delayed. Online enrollment for the federal health insurance exchanges for small businesses was delayed.

Nov. 21: Open enrollment delayed for 2015. The administration pushed back next year's enrollment season by a month.

July 2: Employer mandate delayed. The administration declared that it wouldn't enforce the fines in 2014 for businesses with more than 50 full-time workers who don't offer health coverage. The fines were pushed back to 2015.

Nov. 15, 2012: Exchange deadline delayed. The Department of Health and Human Services gave states an extra month to decide whether they would set up their own health insurance exchanges — a decision they announced just one day before the original deadline.

The New York Times also has a list of the delays and changes to Obamacare.

Check back here throughout the day for the latest news and commentary on Obamacare.

Analysis and Comment

New polling conducted earlier this month and published today by Kaiser Health shows that half of uninsured 18- to 64-year-olds did not think they would get health insurance before the deadline and only 39 percent knew when the deadline was. Graph below:

Reason's Peter Suderman has written about the recent news. A snippet:

The upshot is that the administration is now doing exactly what they said would not do, and did not have the legal authority to do, simply by describing it in a slightly different way. To put it another way, the administration is using the fiction of a limited special enrollment period as cover for a lie and an illegal action.

This isn't even the first time the administration has done this. On the same day that HHS Secretary Sebelius promised that enrollment would not be extended, she also promised that the individual mandate to purchase insurance would not be delayed. Again, it's not—technically. But the administration expanded and clarified the rules for the law's "hardship exemption" in such a way as to essentially give anyone a pass. There are 14 ways to avoid the mandate, the last of which is a vague catch-all category for unspecified hardships, no documentation required.

The pattern reveals the administration's shallow commitment to keeping its word: When they promise they won't do something, you can bet they won't—but that they very well might do the exact same thing by a different name instead. 

Writing in Forbes Avik Roy argues that the recent news means that the pool of people signing up may be larger than it would have been without the revised deadline but it will also be older and sicker.

It's yet another improvisation by the administration, designed to get as many people under the Obamacare tent as possible, to ensure that the law is impervious to repeal. But the upshot is that people who haven't bought insurance, and recently fallen ill, can now buy coverage at the old rate. So while the extension may increase enrollment figures by a few hundred thousand people, it will also ensure that the pool of people signing up is even sicker and older than it would have been otherwise.

WellPoint, the bellwether insurance firm, held its annual investor conference last week. There, Ken Goulet, president of WellPoint's division for conventional employer-sponsored and individually-purchased insurance plans, declared that, "looking at the rate increases on a year-over-year basis on our exchanges, and it will vary by carrier…all of them will probably be in the double digit plus." That number can only go higher, not lower, with this latest delay.

That means that 2015 premiums on Obamacare's exchanges will likely be even higher than they would have been before. That's not good news for the millions of Americans who are trying to shop for coverage on their own but face steep rate hikes already. 

Much more from Reason on Obamacare here.