The Obama administration formally announced it will allow some people who have already begun the process of enrolling in the federal exchange more time to complete their sign up.
Last week, administration sources said the government was considering a workaround to extend the deadline for consumers who can show technical glitches with HealthCare.gov prevented them from enrolling in a plan before the deadline.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services amended the plan slightly, now giving any consumers who began their coverage application but weren't able to complete it by the deadline until mid-April to request an extension, according to a guidance document released Wednesday.
"We are ... making sure that we will be ready to help consumers who may be in line by the deadline to complete enrollment--either online or over the phone," said CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille, The Washington Post reported.
CMS said it will grant consumers "a limited amount of additional time to finish the application and enrollment process." In most cases, consumers will have 60 days to choose a plan.
Consumers will be able to check a box on HealthCare.gov to show they tried to enroll before the deadline. The extension is based on the honor system.
While applauding the deadline extension, Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, cautioned that the "new special open enrollment period needs to be limited to a defined period of time with a clear end date. This helps ensure that there is an incentive for people to enroll," he told the New York Times. What's more, a firm deadline will let "health plans know who is covered as they develop and submit premiums for next year," he said.
But Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University, doesn't think the deadline delay will drastically affect insurers, reported Politico. But if the extension is applied too "loosey goosey," the process could prove more challenging, he said.