Just call it the remix. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has extended the enrollment period for Obamacare after potential enrollees encountered technical glitches or faced long waits through the call center before the Feb. 15 midnight deadline. On Monday, HHS officials announced a one-week “special enrollment” period through Feb. 22, Politico reports. Most states are following suit.
This is not the first time Obamacare enrollment has confronted technical challenges and long waits at the call center. It happened during the open enrollment launch in October 2013 and generated unfavorable publicity for the Affordable Care Act, which has become known as Obamacare. Republicans seized the moment to assail the effectiveness of President Obama’s signature healthcare law, and have made repeated pledges to repeal the measure. Last weekend’s glitches, however, appeared to be on a smaller scale than the first time around.
HHS did not give an enrollment update Monday but reported throughout the final weekend that website traffic and call center volume were heavy. Even before the final deadline neared, 10 million people had selected plans or been re-enrolled on the federal or state exchanges, although not all have paid yet. HHS hopes to have more than 9 million covered in the exchanges this year. That’s less than the Congressional Budget Office forecast.
HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell tells Politico that she is considering opening another enrollment period around the April 15 tax filing deadline for people who learn about penalties for failing to obtain health care insurance and paying bigger fines for going uncovered in 2015. She says Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for such an extension.
A wave of people being fined without having a way to avoid another year’s fines would generate another spurt of unfavorable publicity for the ACA.
The Washington Health Benefit Exchange announced Monday a special enrollment period for two months in that state. California and Minnesota are considering it.
A spring enrollment period could also increase enrollment numbers.
“Such a special enrollment period would increase coverage in affordable private health insurance and reduce the costs that the uninsured pass along to the insured,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin and 10 other senators wrote Burwell.
A paper published by the Urban Institute on Saturday notes various trade-offs to a special enrollment period. Verifying that consumers faced tax penalties could be a headache and the special period could muddle messaging strategies. The authors suggested that the administration consider changing the dates of future open enrollment periods to early in the calendar year. This revision would likely push more uninsured to enroll because the previous year’s penalty for not having coverage would be fresh in their minds, the authors write.
Several advocacy groups are seizing the moment to enroll more young people.
“We’ll be working hard to make sure that consumers who are eligible for this special enrollment period understand that they have until Feb. 22 to complete the process and find a quality, affordable plan that fits their family’s needs,” said Enroll America President Anne Filipic in a statement, adding that the organization will make 25,000 calls this week to help eligible consumers cross the enrollment finish line.
What do you think about the extended enrollment period? Do you think more people will sign up? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.