HHS may use workaround to extend exchange enrollment

Although the Obama administration has said it won't extend the deadline to enroll in the federal health insurance exchange, it is planning on a workaround to allow some consumers to sign up for plans after March 31 if technical glitches prevent enrollments in the last few weeks of the open period.

HealthCare.gov has still faced some technical hiccups, including preventing any consumers from logging in to the website at least three times last week, sources familiar with the situation told the Wall Street Journal. "We are struggling to achieve stability," one of the WSJ's sources said.

That's why the federal government has decided to allow some people to have a chance to sign up after the March 31 deadline--if they can show that website troubles prevented them from enrolling in a plan before the deadline.

It's not clear yet how long this workaround will be in place or what information consumers will need to provide to prove that glitches blocked them from signing up.

While this backup plan is likely positive news for consumers, it could prove a burden for insurers, particularly if anyone tries to take advantage of the opportunity. "Someone who didn't sign up, and then broke their leg, we would have to cover" if enrollment is extended, Heather Thiltgen, vice president of Medical Mutual of Ohio, told the WSJ.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration formally announced through an online notice that it's extending insurance for high-risk consumers. This is the third time that coverage through the pre-existing conditional insurance plan has been prolonged.

Members currently enrolled in the federal program can keep their current coverage through April 30, though they have to enroll in an exchange plan by April 15. The extension was implemented "as part of our continuing effort to help smooth consumers' transition into Marketplace coverage," a spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services told Kaiser Health News.

To learn more:
- read the Wall Street Journal article
- see the Kaiser Health News article
- check out the PCIP notice