(Image: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services)

Managers of HealthCare.gov today bent their “no enrollment deadline extensions” rule, by letting consumers get coverage through the regular 2018 open enrollment period process as long as they have an application started by midnight tonight.

HealthCare.gov managers have also wiggled the deadline by defining “midnight tonight” to mean midnight Pacific time, or 3 a.m. Eastern time.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that runs HealthCare.gov, has offered similar deadline leniency for consumers “already in line” for coverage in previous years.

(Related: Trump’s Treasury Proposes ‘Too Big to Fail’ Changes)

Drafters of the Affordable Care Act created the public exchange system to provide an online supermarket for health coverage.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the parent of CMS, set up HealthCare.gov to provide exchange services for residents of states that were unwilling or unable to run their own exchange programs.

The exchange system came to life in October 2013, with the first coverage sold taking effect Jan. 1, 2014.

In the past few years, the open enrollment period, or time when people can buy individual major medical coverage without having a special reason to be shopping for coverage, ran from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31 in most of the country.

This year, the Trump administration set the open enrollment period start Nov. 1 but made Dec. 15 the enrollment deadline.

A few states with their own state-run exchange programs have set later enrollment deadlines, but many of those have put their enrollment schedules in sync with the HealthCare.gov schedule.

HealthCare.gov had 2018 plan selection information for 4.7 million people Dec. 9. In the past, many people have waited until the last minute to sign up for coverage.

It’s not clear how big the last-minute surge will be this year, but Bloomberg is that consumers calling the HealthCare.gov call center are having to wait about 20 minutes to speak to representatives.

HealthPocket, a health data firm, says it found when it polled consumers this week that only about 25% knew that the open enrollment period for 2018 coverage ended Dec. 15.

Thirteen percent said the enrollment period ended Dec. 31 or Jan. 31.

—Read Medicare Annual Election Period Sails to an End on ThinkAdvisor.


— Connect with ThinkAdvisor Life/Health on
Facebook and Twitter.