WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Tuesday that it would provide more time for people to complete their applications for health insurance if they could show that they missed the Tuesday deadline because of problems with the federal health care website.
The move is the latest in a series of deadline changes, exemptions and clarifications that have confused insurers and many Americans and opened the administration to increasing criticism from Republicans who have opposed the Affordable Care Act from the start.
It was unclear how many people would be affected, or how anyone who has tried, but failed, to sign up on the federal insurance exchange would qualify for the additional time being offered.
The announcement itself was vague, saying only that if website problems had prevented any consumers from signing up, they might qualify for what the government has called "a special enrollment period." The administration did not say how long that would last.
Republicans said the announcement showed that President Barack Obama was desperate. For their part, administration officials said the move was a common-sense response to heavy traffic on the website, which they cited as evidence of a huge need for more affordable insurance.
The original deadline for coverage starting Jan. 1 was Dec. 15. On Monday, the White House provided a 24-hour grace period, to 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. Then Tuesday, the administration provided details of the "special enrollment period" for some people who could not sign up in time.
If consumers want to plead their case, the administration said, they can call a special number (1-800-318-2596). The administration did not set a deadline for such requests. The call center is normally open round the clock but is closed on Christmas Day.