Facing Obamacare enrollment deadline, these states are pushing for more time

The federal enrollment deadline is March 31. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)
The federal Obamacare enrollment deadline is still March 31. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

As the Obama administration emphasizes the March 31 deadline to enroll in Obamacare health plans, some states running their own health insurance exchanges are weighing an extension of the enrollment period because of struggles signing people up for coverage.

There was some early talk of extending the open enrollment period across the country back in October, when Healthcare.gov was a technological nightmare. That talk has subsided now that the major Healthcare.gov problems are well in the rear-view mirror, but some states controlling their own insurance marketplaces have struggled with glitchy exchange websites the past five months of open enrollment and now want more time to get their residents covered.

The whole point of the enrollment period was to make sure people didn’t wait until they got sick to sign up for health insurance coverage. The first open enrollment period under the health law is scheduled to last six months and end on March 31, while next year's will last just three months.

States may need the Obama administration to allow such an extension. The administration obviously wants to get people signed up for coverage, and the federal agency overseeing the exchanges already made an accommodation for states with struggling exchanges. Just a few weeks ago, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said people who had trouble signing up for coverage in those states could access federal subsidies for health plans sold off the exchanges.

In Oregon, which still doesn’t have a fully functioning enrollment website, the legislature is reportedly expected to take up a bill requiring the state to seek an extension from the Obama administration.

“Oregon hopes to get a month-long extension to give Oregonians more time, considering the delays that came with an unfinished website and a last resort hybrid paper-computer application process,” the Statesman Journal reports.

Nevada’s exchange board, after cutting 2014 enrollment estimates by more than half because of its faltering website, will mull an extension on Thursday. The board will provide more details by later this afternoon or tomorrow morning, according to a spokesman for the exchange.

Many members of New Mexico’s exchange board have pushed for an extension, but the state is in somewhat of a unique position. Right now, the board oversees enrollment in the exchange for small businesses, but it’s using the federal exchange for individual health plan enrollment.

“[The board members] wanted to make up for lost time because of early issues with Healthcare.gov to allow more New Mexicans the opportunity to enroll,” New Mexico exchange spokeswoman Debra Hammer said. “CMS understands this interest, however, at this time the [federal exchange] is not planning for an extension.”

In Colorado, there was some discussion at yesterday's exchange board meeting about what the exchange would have to do in case the Obama administration extended the enrollment period, according to people at the meeting. They said the Colorado-run exchange isn't advocating for an extension, but board members want to make sure things like IT systems and outreach activities would be ready if the feds extend the enrollment period.

For what it's worth, the Obama administration has been pretty emphatic that March 31 is the real deadline. We have less than three weeks to find out if that's the case.

Jason Millman covers all things health policy, with a focus on Obamacare implementation. He previously covered health policy for Politico.
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