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People now have until Tuesday to sign up for insurance via HealthCare.gov, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Monday. The previous deadline was Monday for those using the federal health insurance exchanges to secure coverage that will be in place on Jan. 1.
In effect, the announcement represents a one-day extension for people seeking to enroll into coverage for January, although a federal official nevertheless maintained that Monday remains the official deadline. The Washington Post first reported on the change, which is the latest of many maneuvers by President Barack Obama's administration to provide consumers with extra time to sign up. It's also an attempt to minimize the number of individuals who face gaps in their coverage since they hold policies that will be eliminated at year's end because they fail to meet Obamacare standards.
This week's deadline applies to people attempting to sign up for health insurance that will be in place on Jan. 1. The full enrollment period runs until March 31.
"The deadline for signing up for coverage to start Jan. 1 is today. 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," Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a written statement. "Anticipating high demand and the fact that consumers may be enrolling from multiple time zones, we have taken steps to make sure that those who select a plan through tomorrow will get coverage for Jan. 1."
Traffic to HealthCare.gov exceeded 1 million visitors before 5:00 p.m. EST Monday, according to the Twitter account associated with the website. That nearly equaled the weekend total of 1.2 million and is more than five times the traffic last Monday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported.
That high demand was evident Monday morning, when HealthCare.gov, the portal to the health insurance exchanges in 36 states, began putting visitors into its queuing system because of high traffic. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the 11th-hour change to the hard deadline for January enrollments was put into place because heavy use of the website or other technical problems could ensnare people. Health insurance companies were also consulted, the agency said.
"Health plans will continue to do everything they can to help consumers through the enrollment process and mitigate potential confusion or disruption caused by all of these last-minute changes to the rules and deadlines," Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, said in a written statement.