(Story updated at 5:45 p.m. Central.)
Amid a last-minute deluge of consumers trying to get covered Jan. 1, the CMS
pushed back the deadline to select insurance through HealthCare.gov
to Dec. 24, giving shoppers an extra 24 hours to enroll.
The agency said about 850,000 visitors had logged onto the website on Monday by midafternoon, noting that the figure was five times what it was a week earlier. The website—fortified after weeks of crashes and delays—is designed to queue visitors when the number of simultaneous users surpasses 60,000. As a result, tens of thousands of Americans intending to sign up for health insurance instead signed up to get invitations to return later.
A CMS official compared the 24-hour extension for individuals trying to enroll in coverage to accommodations made on Election Day. “If you are in line when the polls close, you still get to vote,” the official noted.
Some state-based exchanges
have delayed deadlines for selecting coverage even further. Rhode Island and Minnesota, for instance, are allowing consumers to choose plans as late as Dec. 31 for coverage that will kick in at the start of 2014.
Payment deadlines are also being relaxed. Individuals typically must make their first payment before coverage takes effect, but America's Health Insurance Plans
last week announced that its members would allow payments to arrive through Jan. 10, although some states have set different deadlines.
The changes are in response to a flood of late enrollments. On Friday, President Barack Obama said that more than 500,000 individuals had obtained coverage through HealthCare.gov in December—nearly four times the number tallied in October and November combined. Many individuals undoubtedly put off signing up for coverage owing to the technological problems that plagued the federal exchange in October and November.
The president said more than 1 million Americans have enrolled in private plans through the state and federal marketplaces since Oct. 1.
The open enrollment period continues through March 31. After that date, most individuals will be required to have coverage or will incur a fine. Last week, the Obama administration announced
that it would allow individuals whose current plans have been canceled to seek a “hardship exemption” from the coverage mandate in 2014. Follow Paul Demko on Twitter: @MHpdemko