Americans who couldn’t enroll in federal Obamacare insurance plans over the weekend because of computer glitches or long waits will now have until next Sunday to sign up, federal officials announced early Monday.
“We are pleased that the vast majority of consumers were able to apply and pick a plan through HealthCare.gov or its call center without a problem,” said Aaron Albright, spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“For those consumers who were unable to complete their enrollment because of longer than normal wait times at the call center in the last three days or because of a technical issue such as being unable to submit an application because their income could not be verified, we will provide them with a time-limited special enrollment period for March 1 coverage.”
The special enrollment period begins Monday and ends Feb. 22.
The extension was prompted by the Saturday outage of an Internal Revenue Service function for Obamacare enrollment, which could have prevented about 500,000 people from enrolling. The glitch prevented some people from getting their income verified so they could enroll on HealthCare.gov and at least some state exchanges by the Sunday deadline.
The outage was reported by the Department of Health and Human Services at about 2 p.m. Saturday and resolved around 8 p.m., but it’s unclear when the problem was first discovered.
People eligible for the just-announced special enrollment period are those who don’t already have coverage through the federal exchange, haven’t been terminated from coverage purchased through HealthCare.gov this year, who say they tried to enroll by the deadline but ran into a technical issue or endured a long call center wait on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Officials said people can verbally “attest” they had issues with the call center, and if they are applying online will see a statement of requirements, then text that says “by continuing, you attest …”
“While there will be evidence for most people that they tried to enroll, it will be hard to verify that a person tried the call center, waited, and didn’t get through,” Albright said in an email. “Moreover, people have to be truthful when applying for federal benefits: it is the law. As such, we are confident that attestation is an effective and efficient way to offer people in line coverage for a time-limited opportunity to finish the process.”
Most state-based exchanges are also offering extensions.
Charles Gaba, a data expert who runs ACASignups.net, said all but three states — Hawaii, Kentucky and Vermont — had announced extensions by Monday afternoon. Maryland officials, for example, said residents who started applications or contacted the state call center before midnight Feb. 15 will have until Feb. 28 to complete the process. Massachusetts and Rhode Island announced extensions until Feb. 23 because of severe weather. And California officials said residents who started to enroll by Sunday will have until Feb. 20 to complete enrollment — although not on their own, only with the help of a certified enroller.
In Washington state — where nearly 160,000 residents enrolled in a qualified health plan through the state exchange by the close of enrollment on Sunday — officials announced a “special enrollment opportunity” for residents unable to complete applications by the original deadline or those who realize at tax time that there’s a penalty for not having insurance.
This extended enrollment period runs from Feb. 17 to April 17. Coverage begins March 1 for those who sign up by Feb. 23, April 1 for those who sign up by March 23 and May 1 for those who sign up b April 17. Washington also provides back-dated coverage on a case-by-case basis, especially for those who experienced a technical issue when they tried to sign up.
Across the nation, people with incomes above the federal poverty level must enroll in coverage by one of these deadlines or face an IRS penalty of $325 per person or 2% of household income, whichever is greater.
Federal officials don’t yet have estimates of the total number of people who signed up for coverage over the weekend.