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Wonkbook: What today’s Obamacare deadline is actually about

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Today keeps being referred to as Obamacare's "deadline." But it's worth being clear about what kind of deadline it actually is.

Today's the deadline to sign up for health insurance on if you want that insurance to start by January 1st. But that's it. If you don't sign up today and instead sign up on Friday, or next Tuesday, your insurance will kick in a bit after January 1st. There's no difference in premiums. There's no difference in plans. There are no penalties.

Indeed, today very much isn't the deadline to sign up for insurance that protects you from the individual mandate. The mandate only kicks in when people have a coverage gap of longer than three consecutive months during the year. That means that buying insurance any time before the end of March is good enough to avoid the penalty.

Tonight's cutoff mostly matters for people who saw their plans cancelled and want to make sure their replacement coverage begins on Jan. 1 so they don't have a coverage gap in 2014. For everyone else — and for the law itself — it's not a very significant deadline.

Got other questions about buying insurance on Then you should read Sarah Kliff's comprehensive buyer's guide.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 35 percent. That's the share of Americans who say they support President Obama's health reform law. However, 50 percent say they support the law or wanted to see something even further to the left. Only 43 percent say they oppose it from the right.

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: How many lines of code are in

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Last day to sign up for Obamacare insurance that starts on Jan 1; (2) an exclusive Snowden interview; (3) can pot help the economy?; (4) Ohio judge strikes same-sex ban; and (5) green is taking over energy.

1. Top story: On the eve of Obamacare

Obamacare site sees traffic surge on eve of enrollment deadline. "Julie Bataille, Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), said about 850,000 people had visited as of 2 p.m. on Monday, with high traffic numbers expected to continue into the afternoon and evening...President Obama is keeping tabs on the effort from Hawaii, and received a “detailed update” over the weekend on the preparations that were made to keep the ObamaCare website functioning." Jonathan Easley in The Hill.

Obama administration quietly extends health-care enrollment deadline by a day. "Obama administration officials acknowledged Monday that they made an 11th-hour change in rules for the federal health insurance exchange to allow Americans to enroll in health plans through Christmas Eve — 24 hours later than advertised — and still get coverage that begins on New Year’s Day. The switch occurred in the form of a software change that government officials and IT contractors inserted into the computer system over the weekend for the online insurance marketplace. Anyone who finishes enrolling by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday will have insurance on Jan. 1, the first day it becomes available...Administration officials did not disclose the change to the public or to most insurers participating in the new marketplace before it was reported by The Washington Post." Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

@pourmecoffee: Big Obamacare deadline today. Everyone must leave their freedom and liberty in a box marked #Obummer on porch for government to pick up.’s last-minute shoppers see mixed results signing up. "Navigators around the country say they have been deluged with phone calls, and that a lot of people are walking into their offices, hoping to get help signing up for coverage despite the navigators’ packed schedule of appointments. Some reported being able to enroll people at a rapid clip: about 30 minutes for someone on Medicaid, and perhaps an hour for people getting private plans. But others reported difficulty getting consumers’ identities verified and being booted off the system as they browsed plan options." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post

How you can help Wonkblog: Shopping for Obamacare? Tell us about itSarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Poll: Support for Obamacare drops to 35-62Paul Steinhauser in CNN.

Obama will be his health insurer’s very favorite enrollee. "President Obama has enrolled in an insurance plan through the District of Columbia's exchange. His enrollment is largely symbolic, as the president will continue to receive his care from the military, according to a statement from a White House official. And this turns out to be great for whichever health plan he picked. President Obama, as Jeff Young points out, from insurers' point of view, is pretty much the prefect enrollee...These type of patients are an insurance plan's dream since they pay for a product they will never, or rarely use. That, then, lets insurers' use their premium dollars to cover the really high claims of very sick patients." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

@jonlovett: Many conservatives citing CNN poll that once again shows a lot of people think Obamacare doesn't go far enough.

BROOKS: The legitimacy problem. "[W]hy should we think Democrats will suddenly crack down and enforce the mandate in the run-up to the next presidential election?...Governing in an age of distrust is different than governing in an age of trust. Government now lacks the legitimacy to impose costs on losers, so politicians face unprecedented pressure to create situations in which everybody looks like winners. Government lacks the legitimacy to coerce." David Brooks in The New York Times.

COHN: Whom to shield? "A major goal of Obamacare is to make sure people buying coverage on their own have access to the same kind of plans that large employers make available. But that means paying the same kinds of prices that large employers pay for their policies. The law shields poor and most middle-class people from the full price, by providing tax credits worth thousands of dollars a year to some people. But the law doesn’t shield everybody. Some people have to pay full price. It would be great to shield even more people from the full price of insurance, which is why some of us always argued—and still argue—that the subsidies should be even more generous and available to even more people. (Single-payer reforms could do the job, too.) But that would require putting a greater financial burden on either the wealthy or the medical industry, in order to offset the extra cost of all those new subsidies." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

@justinjm1: Thank God the president enrolled in Obamacare. I was doubting his commitment to the law NAMED AFTER HIM

Music recommendations interlude: Why country music was awful in 2013, and the country music you really should be listening to.

Top opinion

KLEIN: How economists think about Christmas. "In January 1993, Joel Waldfogel asked 86 undergraduate students whether they liked their Christmas gifts. But Waldfogel is an economist, so he phrased the question more precisely, asking them how much they would’ve paid to buy those items for themselves. The results were grim, at least for the gift-givers: The students estimated that their gifts had cost $438.20 -- but they said the most they would have been willing to pay for them was $313.40." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

YGLESIAS: The macroeconomic case for Christmas. "The real economic case for Christmas is macroeconomic. There's an old Keynesian saying: It takes a lot of Harberger triangles to fill an Okun Gap. Which is to say that the total amount of harm done by micro-inefficiencies is small compared with the massive harms associated with the macroeconomic slack of recessions...Put those together and it looks like Christmas not only leads to more people working, but faced with a surge of demand, managers somehow manage to get everyone to work smarter and more efficiently even as the total number of workers grows." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

SCHRAGER: Why we shouldn’t cheer on this year’s strong holiday spending. "The key to growth is not getting people to consume as much as possible. Consumption that supports the economy is predictable and smooth throughout people’s lives, not as high as possible in a single year then collapsing when they fall on hard times or retire without any money. For firms to invest more, and create jobs, they need confidence that there will be a market for them next week, next year, and in the long term. + For this to happen, consumers need to save." Allison Schrager in Quartz.

BERNSTEIN: Beware the new normal. "[A]n economy’s potential growth rate is both limited by real constraints and influenced by a bunch of factors, the same way height is influenced by both immutable genes and variable nutrition. If the labor force contracts because of weak demand or investment is unusually weak because such resources are misallocated (say, oh, I don’t know … into derivative bets on bundles of funky mortgages) or each expansion is driven by a bubble that bursts and leaves lasting damage, these events diminish potential growth in ways that are not the natural workings of organic economic constraints." Jared Bernstein in The New York Times.

MUKASEY: Unreality in NSA reform. "If the presidential Review Group found no official malfeasance, what has generated the 46 recommendations for reform? The answer seems to lie more in the mind-set of those commissioned to examine the intelligence programs than in the programs themselves...The panel, in short, is recommending an experiment: If there is serious damage to the program—measured, say, by a successful terrorist attack—well, then we can have the data placed in the hands of a private party, and we know nothing can go wrong with that." Michael B. Mukasey in The Wall Street Journal.

WEBBER: How to overhaul the gas tax. "A better option is a “ton mile” fee based on how far vehicles travel and how heavy they are, so that all drivers pay their fair share to fix the resulting road damage. A one-ton car (which is typical for a compact car) that is driven 7,500 miles annually inflicts much less road damage than a two-ton truck that is driven 15,000 miles. While the gas tax captures some of that difference, as the truck driver would buy more fuel, it is not perfectly aligned." Michael E. Webber in The New York Times.

Gun control + in memoriam interlude: The inventor of the AK-47, now passed, wishes for less destruction

2. Gellman interviews Snowden 

Snowden, in his own words, at last. "During more than 14 hours of interviews, the first he has conducted in person since arriving here in June, Snowden did not part the curtains or step outside...“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.” “All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed,” he said. “That is a milestone we left a long time ago. Right now, all we are looking at are stretch goals.”" Barton Gellman in The Washington Post.

Secret contract tied NSA and security industry pioneer. "RSA received $10 million in a deal that set the NSA formula as the preferred, or default, method for number generation in the BSafe software, according to two sources familiar with the contract. Although that sum might seem paltry, it represented more than a third of the revenue that the relevant division at RSA had taken in during the entire previous year, securities filings show. The earlier disclosures of RSA's entanglement with the NSA already had shocked some in the close-knit world of computer security experts." Joseph Menn in Reuters.

Here’s how AT&T could get in hot water for sharing customer data with the CIA. "If the FCC ultimately agrees that anonymized and non-anonymized data should be treated the same by law, it would become illegal for phone companies to sell or share anonymized metadata without consumers' consent. By opening up the issue to public comments, the FCC has implied it's taking the advocates seriously. So far, none of the carriers have filed responses. I've reached out to them for comment and will update if and when they reply." Brian Fung in The Washington Post.

Movie buffs interlude: What "The Shining" might have looked like behind the set.

3. Could pot help the economy?

Marijuana industrialists want to be highly respected, not just high. "When he left his job developing leadership training for Fortune 500 companies to start a medical cannabis company in Colorado, Todd Mitchem had to contend with some hostile reactions. “One of my largest clients called me just to tell me he’s never going to talk to me again – that I’d become a common drug dealer,” he says. Mr Mitchem is one of many entrepreneurs and investors in America’s fledgling legal marijuana industry who are working to legitimise a sector of the economy long seen as barely removed from its black-market counterpart." Shannon Bond in The Financial Times.

Consumer spending up. "Americans stepped up their spending in November despite weak income growth, offering fresh evidence the U.S. recovery is continuing to gain traction. Personal consumption, reflecting what consumers spend on everything from televisions to health care, climbed 0.5% in November from a month earlier, the fastest pace since June, the Commerce Department said Monday. The gain was driven by a boost in spending on big-ticket items, more than half of which came from automobile and parts buying, and on services." Josh Mitchell in The Wall Street Journal.

Solid reports bolster sense of economic strengthening. "The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment jumped to 82.5 this month, the highest reading since July. It improved from 75.1 in November and was unchanged from a preliminary reading released earlier in the month...Some economists, however, said anemic wage growth could dampen spending in the months ahead, and they noted that households were cutting back on saving to pay for purchases. The savings rate — the percentage of disposable income households socked away — fell to a nine-month low." Reuters.

Rand Paul has some Festivus grievances with Washington. The unemployed have some with him. "But so long as we're airing our Festivus grievances with Washington, I'd like to add one to the mix: Too many politicians in Washington have abandoned the long-term unemployed, and worse, they've justified doing so in callous and empirically indefensible terms. Example one? Rand Paul:" Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Eight ways robots stole our jobs in 2013. "The nationwide fast-food strikes brought dire warnings from restaurant industry-backed researchers that if line cooks cost too much, they could easily be replaced by robots. That hasn't quite happened yet, but at least one company is working diligently to make it possible. It's reasonable to believe that McDonalds -- which is already replacing cashiers with touch screens in Europe -- would jump at the chance." Lydia DePillis in The Washington Post.

Arcs bending towards justice interlude: Alan Turing at last pardoned posthumously.

4. Next up, Ohio? 

Ohio's gay marriage ban is rejected in narrow ruling. "A federal judge Monday ordered Ohio authorities to recognize gay marriages on death certificates, saying the state's ban on such unions is unconstitutional and that states cannot discriminate against same-sex couples simply because some voters don't like homosexuality. Although Judge Timothy Black's ruling applies only to death certificates, his statements about Ohio's gay-marriage ban are sweeping, unequivocal, and are expected to incite further litigation challenging the law. Ohio's attorney general said the state will appeal." Amanda Lee Myers in The Associated Press.

Judge denies Utah attorney general's request to halt same-sex marriages. "In denying the request for a stay, Shelby agreed with an attorney representing three same-sex couples in the lawsuit that challenged Amendment 3, saying the state had only regurgitated the arguments he had already thrown out. But state attorneys wasted no time in filing a request for a stay — their third such request since Friday — with the 10th Circuit Court in Denver. The state’s latest request asks the 10th Circuit Court to grant an emergency stay, stopping same-sex marriages immediately — a stay they want to be in effect until the appeals court decides whether to overturn Friday’s decision. The appeals court is not expected to make that decision for at least a few months." Marissa Lang And Brooke Adams in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Dialect interlude: Apparently "mischief night" is only a New Jersey thing. Wonkbook, who's been there done that, had no idea.

5. Green is taking over energy

Americans are buying less electricity. That’s a big problem for utilities. "The doomsday scenario for utilities goes like this: Solar power keeps getting cheaper and more people start installing panels. In the meantime, overall electricity use grows slowly or stagnates. That means utilities are selling less and less electricity. In order to recoup their costs for things like maintaining the grid, they have to hike rates on their remaining customers. That pushes even more people to install solar panels, hurting sales further. Commence the death spiral." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post

Wind is leading to a power struggle in Maine. ""Maine already leads the region with more than 400 megawatts of wind power installed, according to the American Wind Energy Association, which said 1 megawatt of wind power can cover about 290 homes. Recently signed long-term contracts with utilities in Massachusetts and Connecticut could more than double that output in the next few years if the projects all come to fruition. Jon Kamp in The Wall Street Journal.

Renewable energy accounted for all new U.S. capacity in November. "The U.S. added 394 megawatts of new capacity to produce electricity in November, and all of it came from renewable sources, according to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announcement on Friday. The latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from FERC’s Office of Energy Projects now shows that energy sources such as biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind have now accounted for more than a third — 34.9 percent — of all new electrical generating capacity in the United States, with the majority coming from solar. As for total installed operating generating capacity, renewable sources now account for nearly 16 percent, the report said." Emily Atkin in ThinkProgress.

Killing off power vampires. "The Energy Department, environmental groups and the companies that deliver television signals to 90 million homes announced an agreement on Monday to tame “vampires,” the term used for devices that use electricity even when they are turned off. Such devices, which include set-top boxes like DVRs, as well as cable and satellite receivers, are never really “off.” Some draw almost as much current when they appear inactive as when they are running, experts say. The agreement will save consumers more than $1 billion a year, both government and industry officials said." Matthew L. Wald in The New York Times.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Do bigger governments lead to happier peopleDylan Matthews.

Obama will be his health insurer’s very favorite enrolleeSarah Kliff.

Rand Paul has some Festivus grievances with Washington. The unemployed have some with himEzra Klein.’s last-minute shoppers see mixed results signing upSarah Kliff.

Americans are buying less electricity. That’s a big problem for utilitiesBrad Plumer.

Et Cetera

John Podesta's job descriptionPeter Nicholas and Colleen McCain Nelson in The Wall Street Journal.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.