Health Law Extension Granted, You Have Until March 31 To Get Covered

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A short health law extension has been granted by the government after the Obamacare website experienced “technical glitches” due to a high number of interested enrollees.

The health law extension amounts to about six weeks of extra time to sign up for Obamacare exchange plans, some of which were difficult to access during periods of high web traffic to the federal as well as some state sites.

The Department of Health and Human Services issued a one-time guidance last night addressing website traffic issues, and extending open-enrollment for six weeks.

The AP explains that the compromise was sticky to ensure that penalties were only applied fairly and that everyone had a chance to sign up — but without unnecessarily delaying access to coverage. The wire says:

“The problem was that health insurance coverage typically starts on the first day of a given month, and it takes up to 15 days to process applications. So somebody signing up March 16 — well within the open enrollment period — wouldn’t get coverage until April 1, thereby risking a penalty for being uninsured part of the year… The administration ‘has determined that it would be unfair to require individuals in this situation to make a (penalty) payment,’ the Health and Human Services department said in guidance issued Monday evening.”

Not everyone supports the six-week extension though — health insurance industry lobbyists are displeased at the idea, and are threatening to jack up rates due to the health law penalty waiver.

Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for insurance lobby group America’s Health Insurance Plans, said:

“We are focused on educating lawmakers and the broader policy community about why the individual mandate and defined open enrollment periods are essential to achieving broad participation in the marketplaces… Without these enrollment incentives, many young, healthy people may wait to purchase coverage until they need it, driving up premiums for everyone else.”

An HHS document dated to last night explains that the extension slightly complicates taxes, and explains:

“Specifically, if an individual enrolls in a plan through the Marketplace prior to the close of the initial open enrollment period, when filing a federal income tax return in 2015 the individual will be able to claim a hardship exemption from the shared responsibility payment for the months prior to the effective date of the individual’s coverage, without the need to request an exemption from the Marketplace. Additional detail will be provided in 2014 on how to claim this exemption.”

You can read the full PDF here for more information on the health law extension issued last night.