Update, 5 p.m. ET: HealthCare.gov has surpassed a million visits to the site on Monday, per an official Twitter account tied to the site.
Anticipating a crush of Americans trying to sign up for health insurance by a midnight deadline on Monday, the Obama administration is giving consumers an extra 24 hours to select coverage.
“Anticipating high demand and the fact that consumers may be enrolling from multiple time zones, we have taken steps to make sure that those who select a plan through tomorrow will get coverage for Jan 1,” Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The news was first reported by the Washington Post. Citing unnamed sources, the Post reports Monday that IT experts in charge of HealthCare.gov made a software code change to allow the website to accept applications for January coverage up until midnight on Dec. 24. The original deadline to select coverage that begins Jan. 1 was Dec. 15, but the government had already extended that cutoff to Dec. 23.
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Federal officials said earlier this month that they would consider extending the Dec. 23 deadline “should exceptional circumstances pose barriers to consumers enrolling on or before December 23.” The Dec. 24 extension, however, was not initially made public and, according to the Post, was “intended as a buffer in case the Web site has trouble if a last-minute surge of insurance-seekers proved more than the computer system could handle.
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Throughout the day on Monday, HealthCare.gov, facilitating enrollment in individual health plans for 36 states, experienced heavy traffic. In a statement, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the site logged some 850,000 visits as of 2 p.m. A queuing system that kicks in during times of peak demand was in place, asking consumers to wait in a virtual line or opt to receive an e-mail reminder to return later. Uninsured Americans who do not sign up for coverage by Dec. 24 risk having to go without a plan until Feb. 1, although federal officials have said “special enrollment period” could be employed to start coverage as soon as possible for those had trouble enrolling on time.
A White House aide confirmed Monday had enrolled for new insurance through the Washington, D.C. exchange, fulfilling a long-stated pledge.
“As you all know, the President is one of the 85 percent of Americans who gets his health insurance through his employer and, like previous Presidents, is privileged to receive health care from the military,” the aide said. “The act of the President signing up for insurance coverage through the DC exchange is symbolic since the President’s health care will continue to be provided by the military. But, he was pleased to participate in a plan as a show of support for these marketplaces which are providing quality, affordable health care options to more than a million people.”
-with reporting from Zeke J Miller