Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The Dec. 23 deadline to enroll for Obamacare insurance coverage that takes effect on Jan. 1 was extended until Christmas Eve as total visits to the Healthcare.gov surged to 850,000 by Monday.
The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) announced in a statement issued on Monday that people who have begun the enrollment process at the federal health insurance exchange website by Monday midnight would actually have until Christmas Eve to complete it.
CMS Director Julie Bataille said the extension of the cutoff date for obtaining insurance was a fail-safe in anticipation of the high demand and in consideration of enrollees in multiple time zones.
Administration officials and IT contractors, who did not want to be named, explained that computer systems had been programmed to accept enrollment through 11:59 p.m. Christmas Eve in case there is heavy online traffic or technical issues that could crop up.
The deadline extension was criticized by one insurance industry official for not being immediately announced. The official, who also did not want to be named, claimed that it will tighten insurers’ time to process enrollments for plans that should take effect on Jan. 1.
The America’s Health Insurance Plans, however, is allowing anyone who signed up by Dec. 23 to be given until Jan. 10 to pay their first month’s insurance premium.
Meanwhile, the HealthCare.gov registered low error rates and response times for users on Monday, according to CMS. Aside from the deadline extension, the website was bolstered by a back-up queuing system that activates when there is a high volume of enrollees.
About half a million users visited the Healthcare.gov this month alone compared to only 137,000 in the first two months since the health insurance marketplace was rolled out in October. That brought the total enrollment through the insurance exchange to 890,000 to date. The figure still falls short of the administration’s original target of 3.3 million enrollments in 2013.
The initial low enrollment numbers resulted from technical problems as consumers shopping for insurance plans on Healthcare.gov received error messages and got booted out of the system.