Did a Surge in Demand Prompt This Obamacare Delay?

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Time and time again, the Obama administration has shown itself willing to be flexible with deadlines for the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchange system. Even though government officials repeatedly called the March 31 enrollment deadline “firm,” The Washington Post learned that the White House will allow additional time to Americans who say they are unable to complete applications for insurance coverage by the cutoff date.

“Open enrollment ends March 31. We are experiencing a surge in demand and are making sure that we will be ready to help consumers who may be in line by the deadline to complete enrollment — either online or over the phone,” Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters told CNN. On Monday, the the federal healthcare website, Healthcare.gov, logged 1.1 million visitors, its second-busiest traffic day.

So technically the deadline has not been altered. Rather, the administration is framing the additional enrollment time as an extension. Even as recently as early this month, the Obama administration was asserting that the deadline was firm. On March 12, when Rep. Kevin Brady of the House Ways and Means Committee asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, “Are you going to delay the open enrollment beyond March 31?” she replied, “No, sir.”

It’s expected that the official announcement to push back the enrollment date to mid-April will come Wednesday. No specific end date has been set, and Health and Human Services officials told the Post that the length of the extension will depend on the number of people that request it. For now requests can be made through Healthcare.gov but after around the middle of April, requests will only be allowed via call centers. Acceptable grounds for receiving an extension will become narrower at that time as well — those circumstances include people who have a new baby, are getting a divorce, lose a job with health insurance, or had a technical problem signing up for coverage through Healthcare.gov.

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