The troubled website for people to enroll in U.S. private health insurance faced some delays early Monday morning, just hours before the deadline for the first wave of enrollment under the healthcare law.
Representatives for the Department of Health and Human Services, in a statement, confirmed the access problems to www.HealthCare.gov and said the website's usual maintenance time had been extended, but that the site was "coming back up."
And, as of 9 a.m. Eastern time, the site was operational.
People have until midnight on Monday to obtain health insurance under President Barack Obama's healthcare law known as Obamacare or else face fines. But the administration has softened the deadline to accommodate those who attempt to apply for coverage by Monday night.
If people miss the March 31 deadline, all they need do is check off a box on HealthCare.gov indicating that they tried to enroll by March 31. The government will not check to see if people are telling the truth. The decision to allow more sign-up time was driven by an anticipated last-minute surge in enrollments, which could leave people unable to finish the process, The Washington Post reports.
President Obama has insisted repeatedly that the March 31 deadline would not slip. Insurance companies need to know soon who has enrolled, so they can set rates for 2015, administration officials say. The insurers' deadline is fast approaching: between May 27 and June 27. What’s more, any suggestion that the March 31 deadline might slip would only encourage procrastination.
Now the March 31 deadline has grown soft. And that, plus the advertising of 14 “hardship exemptions” to the individual mandate to buy insurance, has added to the sense that the mandate is all but theoretical.
Efforts to access the website Monday morning first generated a message saying "the system isn't available at the moment" due to "maintenance." A later attempt cited a delay because of a heavy number of visitors, but then allowed a visitor to start creating an account.
In the statement, representatives for the department said people who visit the insurance exchange website can leave their contact information and enroll online later, or call a hotline to complete their applications.
On Sunday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency charged with overseeing the website, said the online exchange has seen a rush of potential enrollees as the deadline window closes.
Over the weekend, the site saw 2 million visits, it said, and more than 8.7 million visits during the past week. The agency said the website, which has been plagued by controversial technical problems since it launched in October, "has handled record consumer demand well."
(Editing by Bill Trott, Chizu Nomiyama and Sofina Mirza-Reid)