By C.N. Staff Writer
The deadline to sign up for the Affordable Care Act has been extended-again. The statutory deadline for enrolling in insurance under ObamaCare’s individual mandate actually means people have until mid-April to sign up. Under the new law, most uninsured Americans must either purchase a health insurance plan or pay a penalty. The White House’s new grace period for signups does not constitute a delay in the institution of that penalty. In February the Obama administration announced that the January 1, 2014 deadline for the health care law’s employer mandate was extended to January 1, 2015 for some businesses and 2016 for some others.
The White House effectively extended the open enrollment period Tuesday by allowing anyone who claims to have started the enrollment process on or before March 31 to check a “special enrollment” box. Doing so grants the applicant a hardship exemption and gives them a yet-to-be-determined grace period to complete the enrollment process. The deadline to submit paper applications was also extended to a final-for-now date of April 7.
The maximum penalty for an individual who decides to go without health insurance is $95 a year, or 1 percent of total income, or whichever is higher.
The extension comes despite the fact that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversees the program, has repeatedly stated that there is no legal authority to delay the deadline, and just last week HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius testified before Congress that the administration had no intention of doing so. Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, said that while the deadline remains March 31, “if you are in line when we close, you get to enroll. This is about helping people who want to get health insurance.”
The latest change didn’t surprise Heritage health policy expert Alyene Senger, who has closely tracked the administration’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act. “This is yet another example of the administration creating new rules and special circumstances to ‘fix’ the Obamacare issue du jour,” Senger told The Foundry. “Plugging the many holes isn’t going to save the sinking ship. Instead, it’s time to recognize that Obamacare is a fundamentally flawed law.”
A report by NerdWallet estimated the cost of a lifetime of penalties – for someone who is dropped from their parent’s policy at age 27 and decides never to purchase health insurance until they reach Medicare eligibility at the age of 65 – to be a minimum of $36,556 for an individual and $109,668 for a family of four. Higher income earners may pay a lot more, possibly thousands more than they would have paid for insurance, the report said.
The U.S. website, healthcare.gov, drew 1.1 million visitors on March 24, the second-most in a single day. Some states have also seen a recent surge in exchange traffic, officials said.