Sunday, April 22, 2018

Health insurance deadline is extended one day

Anticipating heavy traffic on the government's health care website, the Obama administration extended Monday's deadline for signing up for insurance by a day, giving Americans in 36 states more time to select a plan.

It was the latest in a series of pushed-back deadlines and delays that have marked the rollout of the health care law.

But federal officials urged buyers not to procrastinate.

"You should not wait until tomorrow. If you are aiming to get coverage Jan. 1, you should try to sign up today," said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the federal agency in charge of the overhaul.

Bataille said the grace period — which runs through today — was being offered to accommodate people from different time zones and to allow for any technical problems that might result from a last-minute rush of applicants.

The HealthCare.gov site had a disastrous debut in October but has gone through extensive improvements to make it more reliable and increase its capacity. The administration said the system was running well Monday.

By the afternoon, the site had received a record 850,000 visits, five times the number logged by the same time last Monday, the administration said. Bataille said the system was handling the volume with error rates of less than 1 in 200 and response times of less than one second.

The Obama administration is hoping for a surge of year-end enrollments to show that the technical problems were merely a temporary setback. That would also go a long way toward easing concerns that insurance companies won't be able to sign up enough young, healthy people to keep prices low for everyone.

But the grace period may be a tacit acknowledgement that the website remains vulnerable to heavy traffic. What's more, the delay offered critics of "Obamacare" another opportunity to argue that the law still isn't working and that President Barack Obama keeps changing the rules.

The administration was careful not to characterize today as a new deadline or an extension, likening the move instead to the Election Day practice in which people who are in line when the polls close are still allowed to vote.

In Pinellas County, the deadline seemed to present little last-minute stress, at least at offices where consumers could seek in-person assistance.

"It's been about average. There hasn't been an onslaught of calls," said Natalie Jackson, who oversees the county government's navigators program. "It's just been the usual flow."

Jackson said the Pinellas offices will be closed today despite the 24-hour extension, in part because there wasn't enough demand for help to justify staying open on Christmas Eve. She noted that people who need additional help can find it on the Internet and through the national hotline, 1-800-318-2596.

In Hillsborough, the Florida Covering Kids & Families program at the University of South Florida had closed down for the holidays and won't reopen until Jan. 2. Callers were referred to local and national websites and the national hotline.

Although 11:59 p.m. today is the deadline for coverage that begins Jan. 1, consumers can continue to sign up for coverage until March and avoid possible penalties for not having insurance. Signing up later simply means that the insurance becomes effective later.

Monday had been the deadline for Americans in the 36 states served by the federal site to sign up if they wanted coverage at the start of the new year. The remaining states operate their own online marketplaces, and some of them have also extended their deadlines.

The president himself signed up for coverage through the government site over the weekend — a purely symbolic move, since he will continue to get health care through the military as commander in chief. He chose a less-expensive "bronze" plan.

Obama said on Friday that more than 1 million Americans had enrolled for coverage since Oct. 1. The administration's estimates call for 3.3 million to sign up by Dec. 31, and the target is 7 million by the end of March. After that, people who fail to buy coverage can face tax penalties.

Minnesota, one of the states running their own insurance exchanges, extended its Monday deadline to Dec. 31 amid problems with its website and extra-long hold times to reach its help center. Maryland pushed back its cutoff date to Dec. 27. New York extended its deadline to midnight today.

Nevada stuck to its Monday deadline, and enrollment counselors there reported a surge of interest.

"We have people lined up out our door. We still have walk-ins. People are asking for help. Our phones are ringing nonstop," said Andres Ramirez in Las Vegas.

In Connecticut, which also kept to a Monday deadline, Ronshelle McIntyre, a 41-year-old mother from New Britain, arrived at a state-run insurance store about 9:30 a.m., and by noontime, she was among about 40 people waiting to speak with a specialist. Some were told the wait could be two hours or more.

"I don't mind," said the mother of three. "For health insurance, I think all it's going to cost me is a little bit of time and patience to get it plugged up, you know?"

Times staff writer Anne Lindberg contributed to this report.

Comments
Bounasr wins Vienna marathon as Kimetto quits after 25K

Bounasr wins Vienna marathon as Kimetto quits after 25K

Salah-Eddine Bounasr of Morocco won the Vienna City Marathon on Sunday after world record holder Dennis Kimetto quit the race before the 25-kilometer mark
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Latest: Islamic State claims bombing in Afghan capital

The Latest: Islamic State claims bombing in Afghan capital

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in the Afghan capital that killed more than 30 people and wounded dozens
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Latest: Islamic State claims bombing in Afghan capital

The Latest: Islamic State claims bombing in Afghan capital

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in the Afghan capital that killed more than 30 people and wounded dozens
Updated: 1 hour ago

Police say 14 Maoist rebels killed in raid in western India

Indian police say government forces have killed at least 14 Maoist rebels during a raid on their hideout in a forested area in western India
Updated: 1 hour ago
Syrian military pummels IS-held districts in Damascus

Syrian military pummels IS-held districts in Damascus

Syrian state media says government forces are pounding districts of southern Damascus held by Islamic State militants in a bid to enforce an evacuation deal reached earlier in the week
Updated: 1 hour ago
Syrian military pummels IS-held districts in Damascus

Syrian military pummels IS-held districts in Damascus

Syrian state media says government forces are pounding districts of southern Damascus held by Islamic State militants in a bid to enforce an evacuation deal reached earlier in the week
Updated: 1 hour ago
Despite denials, lobbyist tied to condo met with EPA chief

Despite denials, lobbyist tied to condo met with EPA chief

In spite of denials, EPA chief did meet last year with a veteran Washington lobbyist tied to bargain-priced condo where he was living
Updated: 1 hour ago

UK calls on social media firms to better protect children

Britain's health secretary has threatened to introduce new laws targeting online social media companies if they don't do more to protect children
Updated: 1 hour ago

Tourists at French abbey evacuated after threat

Authorities are evacuating tourists and others from the Mont-Saint-Michel abbey and monument in western France after a visitor apparently threatened to attack security services
Updated: 2 hours ago
Suicide bomber strikes in Afghan capital, 31 killed

Suicide bomber strikes in Afghan capital, 31 killed

Afghan officials say a suicide bomber has attacked a voter registration center in the capital, killing at least 31 people and wounding dozens
Updated: 2 hours ago