March 31: ACA Deadline or Just Another Monday?

by Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP

March 31 PhotoMarch 31, 2014 is the open enrollment deadline for individuals who want to buy health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace (also known as the “Exchange”).  Or is it?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Obama Administration might extend for certain individuals the March 31, 2014 deadline to enroll in Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) health plans.  You may recall back in December 2013 the Administration’s extension of the deadline to enroll in a health plan with coverage beginning January 1, 2014 (read more about it here). In that instance, the Administration opted to push back the deadline to enroll from December 15 to December 23, and finally to midnight on December 24, largely due to difficulties experienced by individuals enrolling in health plans through a glitch-ridden website (the ACA Exchange website). Now with the March 31 deadline looming, the Administration is again considering an extension to an ACA deadline for certain individuals because of potential technological difficulties. According to the Wall Street Journal, an extension is being considered for “people who can demonstrate that they tried to enroll in a plan before the deadline, but failed because of website troubles.”

The Administration has consistently maintained that it anticipates enrollment to surge with the approach of the March 31 deadline (mainly as a result of younger, healthier individuals seeking to enroll just before the deadline), and the Administration’s predictions appear to be coming true. On March 17, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a weekend surge of enrollees, which has brought “enrollment nationwide to more than 5 million through the Federal and State-based Marketplaces since October 1st.”  The late surge of enrollees raises concerns about the technological capabilities of the website, as the website will need to be able to accommodate the increased traffic from individuals in the days before the deadline—it is anticipated that such increased traffic may cause some users to miss the opportunity to enroll.

The rationale behind the December extensions seems to be equally applicable to extending the March 31 deadline; an extension would ensure that individuals who failed to sign up for a health plan through no fault of their own and not for a lack of trying would still be able to enroll in a health plan despite technological glitches. Though nothing has been said definitively about whether an extension will be granted, it is anticipated that if such an extension is allowed, those enrolling would need to document their initial attempt to enroll in some way in order to be able to take advantage of the extra time in which to enroll.  The Administration has indicated that there will be no delay in enforcing the Individual Mandate (the provision of the ACA that generally requires all Americans to have health insurance or be subject to a penalty).

The Health Law Gurus™ will continue to follow issues in the implementation of the ACA.

We encourage you to share your experiences and thoughts about ACA extensions and the Individual Mandate with us and our readers in the comments section below.

You can read the Wall Street Journal Article here.

You can read the HHS announcement here.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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