Managers of most of America’s public, web-based supermarkets for health insurance are letting consumers sign up for individual and family major medical coverage after the widely publicized Dec. 15 deadline.
The drafters of the Affordable Care Act created the ACA public exchange system to give consumers an easy way to shop for health coverage from ordinary commercial health insurers, and to distribute ACA premium tax credit subsidies.
The team that runs the biggest ACA public exchange program — HealthCare.gov — announced earlier this year that the “open enrollment period” for 2020 coverage, or time when consumers can sign up for individual and family coverage without showing that they have what the government classifies as a good reason to be shopping for coverage, would run from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15.
But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency in charge of HealthCare.gov , announced today that, because of heavy traffic and signup system problems that occurred Sunday, it will push the deadline for signing up for 2020 coverage to 3 a.m. Eastern Time Wednesday.
Consumers who want to get covered through HealthCare.gov for 2020 can return to the website to sign up for coverage, CMS officials said in the deadline extension announcement.
If consumers left their contact information with the HealthCare.gov call center and were already in line to get covered, they “do not need to come back and apply during this extension, because a call center representative will follow up with them later this week,” officials said.
Earlier today, the HealthCare.gov website was still saying that the open enrollment period ended Dec. 15. Around 3 p.m. Eastern Time, managers added a note saying that the deadline has been extended.
HealthCare.gov provides ACA exchange signup and account administration services for many states. Other states run their own exchange programs.
Open Enrollment Period Basics
Health insurers, regulators and ACA exchange program managers developed the open enrollment period to cope with the fact that the ACA eliminated many of health insurers’ defenses against the problem that sick people are more likely to pay for coverage than healthy people are.
An “open enrollment period,” or limits on when it’s easy for people to buy coverage, is supposed to push healthy people to pay for coverage, by scaring them with the thought that, if they try to wait till they get sick to get covered, they may find themselves with huge medical bills and no way to buy health insurance.
Health insurance market policymakers may find extending open enrollment period deadlines a simple way to increase the open enrollment period’s marketing power. The extensions tend to get plenty of free publicity; give consumers more time to sign up for, and pay for, coverage; and increase consumers’ awareness of the idea that missing the enrollment deadline is bad.
Here’s how the state-run ACA exchange programs appear to be handling their enrollment deadlines, based on information on the exchange websites and the exchange programs’ Twitter feeds.
California (Covered California): Covered California started with an open enrollment period running from Oct. 15 through Jan. 31. On Friday, it pushed the deadline for coverage starting Jan. 1 to Dec. 20, from Dec. 15.