Federal health care signup extended a day

WASHINGTON — Last-minute shoppers have one more day to enroll in the federal health insurance marketplace for insurance coverage to begin at the start of the new year.

The White House quietly extended the Monday midnight deadline to sign up for coverage at HealthCare.gov. Now, customers will be given a Jan. 1 start date for insurance if they sign up by midnight Tuesday.

Coverage will begin later in the year for people who enroll after the deadline but before March 31, the end of the enrollment period for coverage in 2014.

The Washington Post reported Monday the unannounced deadline extension was made over the weekend by federal officials and contractors working further on the software behind the enrollment website.

“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 (Tuesday) will get coverage for Jan. 1,” the Post was told by Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Bataille did not explain why the extension was kept secret, but the newspaper, citing an unnamed official, said the extension was intended as a buffer if the website crashed from a last-minute surge of buyers.

The original deadline was Dec. 15 for buying insurance through the federal system created by the Affordable Care Act, in order for a policy to go into effect by the first of the year.

But the Obama administration changed the rules on this and other facets due to the troubled rollout of the HealthCare.gov website and the enrollment process.

For instance, people who have not been able to buy an affordable substitute for policies that were canceled under the law can claim a “hardship exemption,” according to a change announced last week.

Administration officials also have said there will be a “good faith exception” for people who tried but were unable to enroll by the deadline. It was unclear how the “good faith” effort would be determined.

President Obama said Friday that 1 million people had enrolled in new insurance plans under HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states, and the 14 state-run marketplaces. Arkansans who enroll online must use the federal site.

The administration’s goal was to have 7 million people enrolled by March 31.