Obamacare delayed: Deadline to sign up for Jan. 1 start date is now Dec. 23

Obamacare delayed: Americans now have eight additional days to enroll in insurance that starts Jan. 1. Insurers say processing could be a challenge, depending on how many people enroll on HealthCare.gov in the last few days. 

Paul Sancya/AP/File
The shadow of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is shown as she speaks at the Community Health and Social Services Center in Detroit, on Nov. 15.

Consumers now have an additional eight days to sign up for health insurance that goes into effect on Jan. 1, the Obama administration announced Friday.

The previous deadline was Dec. 15. Now it is Dec. 23. The new deadline applies only to those buying insurance through HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states, and the state-run exchanges. HealthCare.gov and some state sites have experienced major technical issues, hindering people’s ability to enroll.

The extended deadline raises questions about the ability of insurance companies to process the applications in time for a Jan. 1 start date, especially with the deadline now coming during the Christmas holiday. The extension was made in consultation with insurers, said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicaid and Medicaid Services (CMS), which is running HealthCare.gov.

"[The delay] makes it more challenging to process enrollments in time for coverage to begin on January 1,” said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans, in a statement. “Ultimately it will depend on how many people enroll in those last few days. It is also important to keep in mind that consumers need to pay their first month’s premium before their coverage can begin."

Open enrollment ends March 31, 2014, and Americans have until then to enroll in coverage and avoid a penalty. The Affordable Care Act requires Americans to have health coverage starting Jan. 1, 2014, but the law allows Americans to be uninsured for three consecutive months in a calendar year without penalty.

The Obama administration has also delayed the start date of the 2014 open enrollment period to Nov. 14 from Oct. 15. The later start gives insurers “the benefit of more time to evaluate their experience from this year and take that into account as they determine what would be necessary for their 2015 rates,” Ms. Bataille says.

The delay also pushes the start of 2014 open enrollment past the midterm elections on Nov. 4, 2014.

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