New Orleans March 31st is the official end date for enrollment for 2014 coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and the numbers are picking up everywhere as people try to get their business together before the deadline to both get coverage and avoid penalties.
CMS, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, has been increasingly clear that there will not be any miracle extensions this time around, although there are a few exceptions.
For any consumers who are caught in computer shutdowns and delays and can establish that case through their navigators or otherwise according to HHS Secretary Sibelius there will be special exceptions to allow additional time to enroll. Reliability of the www.healthcare.gov site has improved immensely, but there was a one-hour shutdown recently and officials in Washington are being cautious that despite increased capacity there are concerns that huge last minute rushes could cause delays. Sibelius under aggressive questioning refused to clarify the standards of proof for the special exception or other grounds that might be extenuating, which says to me that HHS intends to be very liberal in making sure anyone arguing in good faith that they tried to access the website and apply within the deadline will be allowed to do so. My bet is that anyone with a case to make within the first week of April will still be allowed in. The Secretary says there are no legal grounds for extending the time limits though and insurance companies, still worried about the actuarial tables, are also adamant that the doors will have to be closed for 2014 around the March 31st window.
The other important exceptions to the deadline will be in Medicaid expansion states, including Arkansas with its special private option of allowing private insurance companies to provide insurance for the new and expanded coverage for lower income individuals. The door will stay open throughout the year for their enrollment as well as for other specially exempted categories including any who have been incarcerated as well as Indian and Alaskan native groups.
Some may just pay the fine this year of 1% of their income or $95 whichever is higher and try and get their act together for 2015, but the smart money says go for it now and get it done. And, if not, there are exceptions, but every other way is harder than just plain getting it done by the end of March.
Just do it!