HealthCare.gov Users to Get Two-Day Extension for Picking 2016 Plans

About 10 million people expected to use HealthCare.gov and state equivalents for new-year coverage

WASHINGTON—Last-minute shoppers on HealthCare.gov will get a two-day extension to pick their 2016 insurance plans, the Obama administration said late Tuesday, in what had been the final hours before the first sign-up deadline of the law’s fresh enrollment season.

As many as 10 million people are projected to use HealthCare.gov and state equivalents to get coverage for the coming year. But as of early December, only about three million people had gone to HealthCare.gov to renew coverage or apply for the first time.

Federal officials had long been expecting a surge of applications around a heavily promoted Dec. 15 deadline to have coverage effective Jan. 1. The new sign-up season had started Nov. 1, but as in previous years, most activity has been clustered in the final days.

The Obama administration said Tuesday evening that the past few days have been the busiest ever on the site and customer support call center, which serve about three dozen states that were unable or unwilling to operate their own. The extension means the sign-up period now ends at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Dec. 17.

The federal site underwent a substantial overhaul after a rough launch in the fall of 2013and performed significantly better last fall. It also appeared to hold up this year at busy moments, when it was able to handle more than 150,000 simultaneous users, but the federal government also deployed ‘waiting rooms’ for numbers beyond that point at certain times, or asked customers to leave their contact information and hold a place in line.

“Because of the unprecedented demand and volume of consumers contacting our call center of visiting HealthCare.gov, we are extending the deadline,” said Kevin Counihan, the Obama administration’s official in charge of HealthCare.gov. “Our goal is to provide access to affordable coverage and the additional 48 hours will give consumers an opportunity to come back and complete their enrollment for January 1 coverage.”

People who want coverage that starts later in 2016 will be able to sign up any time before Jan. 31. The federal government has said that unlike in previous years, it won’t offer a broad extension of that deadline to coincide with tax-filing deadlines.

By Louise Radnofsky

Source: The Wall Street Journal – http://www.wsj.com/articles/healthcare-gov-users-to-get-two-day-extension-for-picking-2016-plans-1450241316