Obamacare: What Is The Deadline To Sign Up?

An application for health insurance, a stethoscope and some pillsThe Obama administration has clarified the deadline by which Americans must sign up for health insurance to avoid paying a penalty.

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That deadline is in fact March 31, not Feb. 15, according to guidance released by the White House.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare,” allows Americans to be uninsured for three consecutive months in a calendar year without penalty. The individual mandate to buy insurance begins on Jan. 1, 2014, which means an individual can go without insurance through March 31, 2014, and not pay a fine.

Originally, the law was interpreted to mean that a person had to have coverage in effect by March 31. In the health-insurance exchanges – i.e, Healthcare.gov and the 14 state-run exchanges – that meant enrolling by Feb. 15 for a policy that starts March 1. Health-insurance policies begin on the first of the month, and so if one waited until after Feb. 15, the policy would not go into effect until April 1.

Now, the White House statement says, “If you sign up for insurance by the end of March, you will not face a penalty.”

“The deadline for signing up for insurance is March 31,” said the guidance released Oct. 23 by Assistant White House Press Secretary Jessica Santillo. “It was true this morning. It is true tonight.”

The Obama administration has faced growing pressure to extend the deadline to buy health coverage, especially since the problem-riddled launch of Healthcare.gov on Oct. 1. On Oct. 22, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire became the first Democrat to make that call.

“Given the existing problems with the website, I urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014. Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options, and enroll,” Senator Shaheen wrote in a letter to the White House.

Secretary Sebelius Addresses HealthCare.gov Technical Issues

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius addressing HealthCare.govU.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday claimed responsibility for the failed rollout of HealthCare.gov and committed to fixing the website’s many software and system problems.

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“I am as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch of HealthCare.gov,” Sebelius testified before the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee. “So let me say directly to these Americans: You deserve better, I apologize. I’m accountable to you for fixing these problems.”

Sebelius, who testified under oath, appeared before members of Congress for the first time since the troubled Oct. 1 rollout of the federal health insurance marketplace that’s intended to let millions of uninsured Americans purchase health-care coverage.

The secretary’s much-anticipated remarks came amid a rising chorus of GOP calls in the House and Senate seeking her resignation.

Sebelius is the second member of the Obama administration to testify this week. On Tuesday, Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, issued a public apology in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee and discussed efforts to improve the website within a month.

On Wednesday, Sebelius admitted that “end-to-end” testing of the website had been inadequate. Now that problems are being identified and resolved, she said she expects HealthCare.gov to be functioning optimally by the end of November.

But in opening remarks, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich) said the site was down early Wednesday morning when “we were hit with an error message.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the committee’s second-most senior member, compared the website glitches to early problems with the rollout of Medicare’s prescription drug program, which took effect Jan. 1, 2006. He urged his fellow committee members “to stop hyperventilating.”

The federal website is the entry point for millions of Americans in 36 states to enroll in health insurance plans that take effect in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act. People in 14 states and the District of Columbia may enroll through state-based health insurance exchanges, or marketplaces.

But since Day One, consumers attempting to access HealthCare.gov have experienced long wait times, timeouts and error messages, making it difficult to enroll for health-care coverage online.

In a heated exchange, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) pressed Sebelius for the names of people “responsible for this debacle.”

“Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible,” Sebelius said.