Obamacare’s deadline could be flexible

Federal officials are considering a deadline loophole that would allow signups beyond March 31—provided they meet these criteria.

Life & Health


In Wichita Falls, Texas, producer Kelly Fristoe is planning a major celebration at the end of the month. After March 31—the last official day to enroll in an Obamacare plan—he and his wife are taking a long weekend trip far from the agency offices and the glare of the HealthCare.gov home screen.

“I need a spa day,” he confessed. “These last six months have been tough.”

Like many other agents nationwide, Fristoe has worked long hours, including nights and weekends, to service the millions of Americans clamoring to enroll in a health insurance policy through state and federal exchanges. They are starting to see the beginning of the end.

However, new rumblings from the White House signal that for some healthcare shoppers—and their agents—March 31 may not be the day to celebrate.

Despite assuring Americans that the open enrollment period will absolutely end this month, federal officials say the Obama Administration is considering extending the March 31 deadline for users for whom technical glitches prevented their successful enrollment.

“We are struggling to achieve stability,” one official told the Wall Street Journal.

Indeed, despite overall improvement since its rocky rollout, HealthCare.gov has stalled at least three times in the past week, including an hour-long outage Friday.

To accommodate individuals who tried to enroll unsuccessfully, the administration is considering allowing stymied users to apply for health insurance during a “special enrollment period”—provided they can demonstrate their difficulties. How long that period will be, and how people will submit proof that they were delayed by glitches, remains unclear.

Sentiment from health insurance agents on the matter, however, appears to be unanimous.

“I don’t know that [an extended enrollment period] is really needed,” said Neil Crosby, a spokesman for the National Association of Health Underwriters. “Yes, there have been plenty of times where HealthCare.gov hasn’t worked properly, but I think there’s been plenty of time since then that people have been successfully enrolling.”

With the help of independent agents, navigators and other community resources, those who wanted to should have been able to enroll by now, and agents are ready to take a well-deserved break, he said.

“There’s been six full months,” Crosby stressed. “I think the agents feel that’s plenty of time and that they’ve made themselves plenty available.”

Fristoe agreed, though predicting that HealthCare.gov will probably buckle under the influx of applications coming in on March 31.

“A ton of people who waited until the very last minute will swarm in and the system will be so overwhelmed, it will fail,” he said.

For folks in those situations, Fristoe understands the government allowing them “a few more days” to get enrolled. However, he isn’t overly sympathetic.

“If you’re going to wait that long, there’s going to be consequences,” he said.

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