Federal health officials say March 31 is still the deadline for enrolling in health coverage and that they're only making sure anyone who tried to apply by the deadline can get coverage. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had offered accommodations for previous monthly enrollment deadlines, so it's not surprising that the agency is doing this again.
The Obama administration has been adamant that the latest enrollment announcement isn't a deadline extension. The big question, though, is how does the administration make sure people who say they tried to enroll before March 31 actually made that effort? As my colleague Amy Goldstein reported last night, CMS is going with the honor system. People submitting their applications on HealthCare.gov or through a call center after March 31 "attest" that they had trouble enrolling before the deadline.
So, will CMS make any effort to verify a person's attestation? CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille fielded that question multiple times during a Wednesday afternoon press call before she was eventually asked straight up whether the agency is relying on the honor system. Her response: pretty much, but people don't like lying to the government.
"I think it's also important to recognize that this is an official federal application for marketplace coverage," Bataille said. "Most people are truthful when applying for these benefits."
Here's what we know about the March 31 deadline:
1. CMS couldn't say what the deadline would be to enroll in coverage for those who had issues before March 31. It depends on what the backlog looks like, Bataille said. "It's difficult for us to specify how long a line we may have. ... It could take a few days, it could take a week or so."
2. Those applying by paper must have their applications into CMS by April 7 to sign up for coverage starting May 1. They have until April 30 to actually pick a health plan.
3. If people enroll after experiencing trouble before March 31, they won't be responsible for paying the individual mandate penalty for the time they went without coverage.
4. CMS says it's already seeing a surge in traffic to HealthCare.gov. The enrollment website had 1.2 million visits on Tuesday, which is similar to traffic it saw near the December deadline to apply for coverage starting in January.
5. Kurt DelBene, the former Microsoft executive who's overseeing site operations, said HealthCare.gov can handle up to 100,000 simultaneous users. There recently have been "minor issues" with site performance, which have all been addressed "rapidly," he said.
6. It's not a perfect comparison, but CMS did provide a special enrollment period near the end of December to make sure people could have coverage starting Jan. 1. About 20,000 people requested the accommodation then, Bataille said.
7. Some states are making their own accommodations around the deadline. Maryland will allow people to enroll after March 31 if they request an extension by that day. Nevada is allowing an extra 60 days for anyone who had trouble enrolling before March 31. Minnesota's exchange is also allowing people to sign up if they document previous efforts to enroll by March 31. Connecticut's exchange made clear today that it's not moving the March 31 deadline.
8. The law also allows for special enrollment periods after March 31 for people experiencing certain hardships. CMS issued guidance on that today.
9. There are five days until March 31.