NJBIZ

Obamacare Deadline Extended For Those Who Had Problems Signing Up Over The Weekend

NJBIZ — Tuesday, February 17, 2015

By Beth Fitzgerald

The federal government has extended until Sunday the deadline to sign up for Obamacare health insurance for those who tried to enroll but got caught up in a technical glitch or long wait times this past weekend.

Midnight last Sunday, Feb. 15, was the deadline to buy 2015 health insurance at HealthCare.gov under the Affordable Care Act, which provides government subsidies to low- and moderate-income individuals and families to defray the cost of coverage.

But the federal Department of Health and Human Services on Monday said it has created an extra "special enrollment period" that runs through this Sunday, Feb. 22.

HHS said a temporary technical glitch last Saturday prevented applicants from getting their income verified by the Internal Revenue Service, a critical step in the enrollment process. It was estimated that the IRS glitch may have kept up to a half-million people nationwide from enrolling for several hours Saturday.

HHS previously announced that 222,640 New Jerseyans had enrolled through Feb. 12, well above the nearly 162,000 who enrolled in 2014; later this week, HHS will announce the tally through Feb. 15.

As the midnight Sunday deadline was approaching, HHS said applicants faced delays as tens of thousands crowded into the HealthCare.gov website during the final three days of open enrollment.

HHS said the one-week extension is limited those impacted by the IRS technical glitch or the delays caused by high volume. Those who enroll by this Sunday will have health insurance coverage beginning March 1.

Tom Vincz, spokesman for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, told NJBIZ: "Horizon wants to help all consumers who are seeking coverage before the deadline to have peace of mind health insurance provides, so we welcome the federal extension for those who have begun the application so they can complete the application process."

Horizon is one of five health insurers selling coverage in New Jersey at HealthCare.gov; the others are AmeriHealth New Jersey, Health Republic Insurance of New Jersey, UnitedHealthcare and Oscar Insurance.

John Sarno is president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, which is helping employers get their workers covered via HealthCare.gov. Sarno welcomed the HHS decision to provide extra time for those who need it: "HHS has learned the lessons from last year's glitches. This time we see a flexible, nimble agency responding with a solution in real time."

Sarno added that the extra time will help New Jersey: "There was a bottleneck in applications and the thinking is that some applicants were discouraged, so there was a quick decision to extend the process."

Ray Castro, senior policy analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective, said: "Extending the deadline could benefit many New Jerseyans. The health insurance marketplace is still a relatively new experience for the uninsured, which helps to explain why many of them still have not enrolled in plans yet. This open enrollment period is even more challenging because it was only three months compared to six last year, which can be confusing. Also, many of the uninsured do not know about the tax penalty for failing to become insured. Of course, extending the deadline should not become a standard practice because people will not take the deadline seriously, but given how new this policy is, it makes sense to extend it this time."

HHS pointed out that it also provided a similar special enrollment period last year for coverage taking effect in 2014, the first year of the nationwide health insurance marketplace created by the ACA.

Jersey City Mayor Steven M. Fulop announced that, so far, about 22,000 of the city's residents have signed up at HealthCare.gov, about 10 percent of the New Jersey enrollees.

"Our outreach has been aggressive and we've worked to reach every community in the city, in the places they work, live and recreate," Fulop said in a statement. "We've partnered with community leaders and local nonprofits, hired bilingual staff and really made a strong push to enroll as many residents as possible with health care coverage, as this benefits not only the individual but the entire community."

"The numbers make it clear — there is a real need for quality, affordable health care across the state, and the Affordable Care Act and strong local leadership like Mayor Fulop's is making coverage possible for hundreds of thousands in New Jersey," said U.S. Health and Human Services Regional Director Jackie Cornell-Bechelli.

Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, said the extension is important to New Jersey: "Any opportunity that can extend coverage to more New Jersey consumers is important. We appreciate that HHS recognizes those who attempted to enroll should not be penalized due to circumstances beyond their control."

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