People who experienced glitches or long waits on the federal Obamacare website have another week to sign up for healthcare coverage.
Federal officials announced on healthcare.gov they have extended the deadline to Feb. 22 for people who can “attest” they ran into technical glitches on the website or long wait times when they tried to enroll over the weekend.
The extension applies only to people who are signing up for the first time under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Their insurance coverage takes effect on March 1.
Consumers who are already enrolled in a health insurance plan cannot switch coverage.
This past Sunday was the deadline to sign up for health insurance for this year under the Affordable Care Act, but a glitch in the system prevented some people from completing their applications.
A malfunction with an Internal Revenue Service verification system related to ACA enrollment was reported on Saturday around 2 p.m. and was resolved around 8 p.m.
However, as a result, about 500,000 people may have been prevented from signing up because they couldn’t verify their income in order to enroll by the deadline.
Thirty-seven U.S. states use healthcare.gov to enroll residents, while 13 (as well as Washington, D.C.) use their own online marketplaces to sign up residents.
The glitch also prompted 47 states to create extensions, but some extensions only give people a few more days to complete applications.
On Monday, the state of Washington extended the signup deadline through mid-April. The move came because state officials said some residents did not understand they could be forced to pay a penalty if they were uninsured in 2014 or 2015.
Under the Affordable Care Act, uninsured consumers are hit with a tax penalty on their IRS forms. The penalty takes effect this tax season for people who didn’t have insurance last year.
Better This Year Than Last?
Despite the hiccups, Sarah Lueck, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said enrollment went more smoothly this year.
“The whole process is so new, but consumers and the people who are helping them are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about how to navigate it,” she said.
Christine Eibner, a senior economist at the RAND Corporation, believes the website will work better in the future in terms of how it functions and conveys information.
She said people need to understand tricky concepts like monthly insurance premiums, out-of-pocket cost implications, provider networks, drug formularies, and quality ratings.
She cited reports that say consumers can’t always access information on healthcare networks and lists of pharmaceuticals when they sign up for new insurance plans under the ACA.
ACA Signups by the Numbers
Here are a few figures on current ACA enrollment:
- As of Sunday night, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it had 80,000 concurrent visitors to healthcare.gov, the highest number since Dec. 15. The HHS also reported that the website’s call center, which people can use to enroll by phone, accepted more than 250,000 calls that day.
- Nearly 10 million people have already signed up for insurance coverage for 2015, federal health officials reported earlier this month.
- Nearly 8 million people have purchased insurance plans through the federal exchange website since November. Other sources say the figure is at about 7.5 million. Three million people bought coverage from state exchanges.
- The Congressional Budget Office previously expected about 13 million enrollees in 2015, but federal health officials said last November that the total would be about 9 to 10 million for the year.
Last week, White House officials said 2015 subsidies to help people pay for health insurance are $268 a month on average for people using heathcare.gov. Enrollees must qualify for federal assistance to help cover healthcare premiums.
About 8 out of 10 people who chose health plans had premiums of $100 per month or less after subsidies, the HHS said. Without subsidies, average Obamacare premiums available through healthcare.gov are $374 a month.
Signups Still Lag for Some Demographic Groups
Not everyone has been quick to sign up.
It’s been a challenge to enroll Hispanics, who make up about one-third of the nation’s uninsured residents.
As of Jan. 16, 10 percent of those who enrolled as part of the 37 states that use healthcare.gov were Latino. That is up from 7 percent from the first few months of enrollment last year.
The same report shows that white enrollment dropped from 71 percent last year to 66 percent this year. African-Americans enrolled at the same rate, with enrollment at 14 percent for both years.
Those numbers, however, are reported by applicants themselves and may not offer an accurate representation. Applicants signing up on healthcare.gov do not have to specify their race or ethnicity.
The open enrollment period for this year started on Nov. 15. The next ACA open enrollment period begins Oct. 1 for coverage that will kick in no earlier than Jan. 1, 2016.
There's no deadline for enrolling in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program for low-income Americans.
You can also update your enrollment if you experience what’s called a “change of life,” such as a death in the family or getting a new job.