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Affordable Care Act enrollment deadline is extended to Dec. 18

Last-minute call center delays prompt the government to give people more time to sign up for 2020 health insurance coverage.

The open enrollment period to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act has been extended to Wednesday.

The Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services released a surprise announcement Monday afternoon on its website, extending the period, which had ended on Sunday. The announcement shocked local advocates in Tampa Bay, who learned of the move around the same time as news media.

“In an abundance of caution, to accommodate consumers who attempted to enroll in coverage during the final hours of open enrollment but who may have experienced issues, starting at 3 p.m. Dec. 16, we are extending the deadline to sign up for Jan. 1 coverage until 3 a.m. Dec. 18," said a news release from the federal agency.

“This additional time will give consumers the opportunity to come back and complete their enrollment for Jan. 1 coverage," the release stated. "While the website and the call center remained open for business on Dec. 15 with over half-a-million consumers enrolling throughout the day, some consumers were asked to leave their name at the call center.”

RELATED: Florida leads the nation again in Affordable Care Act signups

Consumers who left their contact information at a call center will be reached by a representative to follow up later in the week, according to CMS.

Jodi Ray, executive director of Florida Covering Kids & Families, a health care navigator program based at the University of South Florida, said a number of technical issues have arisen during the enrollment period this year.

“I’m not terribly surprised they are extending it, but it would have been nice to know before today," she said. "If we didn’t even know about it, the average consumer can’t know.”

As of week six of the normal enrollment period, Florida was leading the nation with more than 1 million sign-ups through the Affordable Care Act for 2020 coverage. Nearly 3.9 million Americans have signed up on the federal exchange as of Dec. 7, according to CMS.

Ray and other advocates of the program felt confident Florida will once again log the most sign-ups during open enrollment and potentially surpass enrollment levels from 2018 and 2017.

“The last set of numbers actually came in 8,000 people higher than in 2017,” Ray said. “So we felt pretty optimistic going into the end.”

Still need to enroll?

• Open enrollment ends Dec. 18.

• Even if you’ve already enrolled in a marketplace plan, it’s important to update personal information to ensure the best tax credit and premium prices.

• Book appointments for in-person, virtual or phone assistance with Covering Florida by calling toll-free 877-813-9115 or visit coveringflorida.org.

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