How to Extend the Obamacare Enrollment Period

Two states are hoping to qualify for a “special enrollment period” allowing residents to sign up for insurance past the March 31 deadline.

This December 2, 2013 photo shows a woman reading the insurance marketplace internet site in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Clara Ritger
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Clara Ritger
March 17, 2014, 11:31 a.m.

At least two states are re­quest­ing a longer Obama­care en­roll­ment peri­od—and they might get it.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been very clear that the en­roll­ment dead­line for health in­sur­ance pur­chased on the ex­changes is March 31, and that it doesn’t think it has the au­thor­ity to ex­tend it. But be­cause some con­sumers con­tin­ue to have trouble sign­ing up, of­fi­cials are eye­ing a “spe­cial en­roll­ment peri­od” that would vir­tu­ally ex­tend the dead­line to get cov­er­age.

Nevada and Ore­gon hope to qual­i­fy for one of the health law’s spe­cial en­roll­ment peri­ods. Con­sumers in both states have faced tech­nic­al is­sues in get­ting cov­er­age: Ore­go­ni­ans still don’t have a func­tion­ing on­line ex­change, and Nevadans are re­ceiv­ing er­ror mes­sages and hit­ting oth­er site glitches re­min­is­cent of Health­‘s early days.

Just un­der 39,000 Ore­go­ni­ans and 29,000 Nevadans had suc­cess­fully se­lec­ted a plan as of March 1, ac­cord­ing to data from the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment—few­er than 1.6 per­cent of all Obama­care en­rollees na­tion­wide.

State ex­change of­fi­cials have reached out to HHS to re­quest per­mis­sion to ex­tend the en­roll­ment peri­od. Ore­gon ex­change spokes­wo­man Ariane Holm said the state is seek­ing an ex­ten­sion through the end of April. Nevada is look­ing at up to 60 days, as per­mit­ted by law.

Nich­olas Bagley, a health law pro­fess­or at the Uni­versity of Michigan Law School, wrote a post on the “con­sid­er­able dis­cre­tion” HHS has in grant­ing spe­cial-en­roll­ment peri­ods for The In­cid­ent­al Eco­nom­ist, an eco­nom­ics and health blog. HHS, he said, has the leg­al au­thor­ity to grant spe­cial en­roll­ment peri­ods for con­sumers who had tried to get cov­er­age but could not.

HHS of­fi­cials have avoided re­peated ques­tions about wheth­er a state could qual­i­fy for a spe­cial en­roll­ment peri­od and em­phas­ized that con­sumers should sign up by March 31, the end of open en­roll­ment.

But the ad­min­is­tra­tion has already made some tweaks to that dead­line, and it wouldn’t be un­char­ac­ter­ist­ic to grant lee­way to con­sumers who tried but could not get cov­er­age, giv­en the num­ber of changes made last Decem­ber in try­ing to get people in­sured who wanted cov­er­age be­gin­ning Jan. 1. And just Fri­day, of­fi­cials an­nounced con­sumers with ser­i­ous ill­nesses covered un­der the law’s Pre-ex­ist­ing Con­di­tion In­sur­ance Pro­gram can now se­lect a new ex­change plan through April 15.

The Wall Street Journ­al also re­por­ted Sunday that fed­er­al of­fi­cials are work­ing on a plan to al­low con­sumers who tried but failed to get through Health­ by March 31 to sign up after the dead­line.

Ore­gon of­fi­cials, The Ore­go­ni­an re­por­ted late last week, are hop­ing for a sim­il­ar re­prieve for the state’s res­id­ents.

And in Nevada, the Las Ve­gas Sun re­ports, the state is already mak­ing uni­lat­er­al moves to set up a spe­cial en­roll­ment peri­od. It’s un­clear wheth­er Nevada has the au­thor­ity, giv­en that HHS has not is­sued guidelines for how the spe­cial-en­roll­ment peri­ods would work, but the board of dir­ect­ors of Nevada’s ex­change has a vote sched­uled Thursday on the mat­ter.

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