WASHINGTON – Consumers waiting until the last minute to buy health coverage under Obamacare received a reprieve as a record number of users visited the federal online insurance marketplace.
The deadline to enroll in health plans that begin Jan. 1 was extended to midnight today from yesterday for most of the U.S., the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said. The extension was announced as HealthCare.gov yesterday saw almost 2 million visitors, a single-day record,and consumers were moved into a queuing system deployed when the website approaches 50,000 simultaneous users.
President Barack Obama has struggled to carry out the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the biggest overhaul of the U.S. health-care system since the 1960s. The law has been hamstrung by delays, website outages and political backlash. The late changes probably are necessary to smooth the transition to the new insurance system in January, said Henry Aaron, a health economist at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
“That kind of willingness to do things manually, do whatever it takes to be done to make sure people do not get disappointed at key dates, is absolutely critical right now and there are indications that the feds are belatedly figuring that out,” Aaron said in a phone interview.
Insurers had agreed to begin coverage at the start of 2014 for people who selected policies by the deadline as long as they send their first payments by Jan. 10. With the enrollment extension, people who buy plans from tomorrow through Jan. 15 will get coverage Feb. 1. The last deadline to sign up for a health plan in 2014 remains March 31.
“We recognize that many have chosen to make their final decisions on today’s deadline and we are committed to making sure they can do so,” said Julie Bataille, a CMS spokeswoman.
While acceding to some of the late changes requested by the administration, insurers have resisted other concessions such as retroactive enrollment and out-of-network coverage. The enrollment extension was another irritant to the industry.