Deadline to Sign Up for Obamacare Has Exceptions

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By Susan Cornwell
and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON -- For most Americans who don't have health insurance, Monday is the deadline to sign up for coverage starting on Jan. 1 under President Barack Obama's health care law.

For others, it's not a deadline.

There is a "hardship" exception for some that permits them not to sign up any kind of health insurance at all without facing a penalty -- the hardship being problems they've encountered with Obamacare and its malfunctioning website

UPDATE: The Obama administration said Monday it has extended a deadline for health insurance under Obamacare, giving consumers shopping on an extra day, until Dec. 24, to pick plans to kick in for coverage beginning Jan. 1.

"The deadline for signing up for coverage to start Jan. 1 is today," said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency responsible for the 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 tomorrow will get coverage for Jan. 1," she said in a statement.

(Original story continues below)...

There will also be a "good faith exception" for others, according to a senior Obama administration official.

"We'll have a special enrollment period," the official said last week, for "all those who make a good faith effort to get enrolled by the deadline" but fail to do so.

The official didn't say how the government would determine whether or not the effort was made in good faith.

Still others may simply get a break from insurance companies, which the administration has urged to be flexible with people who miss the deadline.

Such is the uncertain state of "Obamacare" as it approaches what was originally supposed to be a defining moment -- %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%a signup deadline that would provide the first real test of the viability of the health care program brought into law by the Affordable Care Act.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the original deadline for obtaining medical coverage was Dec. 15. That was extended to Dec. 23 after the federal government's website,, proved dysfunctional and sometimes non-functional.

The administration has reserved the right to change the deadline again "should exceptional circumstances pose barriers to consumers" enrolling on or before Monday.

Obama said on Friday that one million people had enrolled for new insurance plans under the law through, which serves 36 states, and 14 state-run marketplaces.

Many more enrollments are a major priority for Obama's signature health care reform, which officials are still hoping will help millions of uninsured and under-insured Americans finally to obtain medical coverage by the end of March.

Gaps in Coverage?

It is not known how many consumers may have no insurance coverage during periods of 2014 because they failed to sign up on by Monday.

Some of the 14 states running their own health care exchanges have extended their sign-up deadlines past Dec. 23.

On Thursday, the administration announced that if people's old insurance plans were canceled because of new standards under the law, they can claim a "hardship" exemption to the requirement that all Americans must have coverage by March 31 or face penalties that start at $95.

So some of these people may not sign up.

The Obama administration says it is trying to be flexible, but some Republican critics of the law say the frequent delays and changes have muddied the waters and confused people.

"With no clarity as to when people should sign up and who they should pay and when, it's a virtual certainty that many consumers will find themselves uncovered for a period of time through no fault of their own," Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said last week.

Administration officials said Friday there are fewer than 500,000 people who have received cancellation notices from their insurance companies and have not yet found alternatives. Some were "auto-enrolled" in other plans by their insurance companies, the officials said.

The pace of sign-ups has picked up since October and November when technical problems crippled the website. Anyone who tried the website in October and November and became stuck has been getting attention from the administration.

Officials sent more than two million emails to people who could not advance through the website. They have also made more than 600,000 phone calls to consumers and mailed notices to hundreds of thousands of people, officials said.

"We are confident that we are doing everything we can so that individuals know what their options are to get coverage, whether it is at the marketplace or seeking it through the private insurers," said the senior official.

Obamacare Explained Four Ways
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Deadline to Sign Up for Obamacare Has Exceptions
A year ago, in response to a Reddit thread titled "What is Obamacare and what exactly did it change," one user put together an exhaustive post that explains pretty much everything about Obamacare. While some of its answers are a little out-of-date, it is incredibly complete, and regularly links back to the original Obamacare legislation. For most Obamacare questions, it's the first -- and best -- site.
Unfortunately, for all its completeness, the Reddit explanation isn't the most interesting read. If you want something a little more diverting, you may consider taking a peek at Obamacare: Explain It Like I'm Five. Basically, this cartoon explains Obamacare like a playground argument, a he said/she said battle between insurers and average people, with Obama running interference in the middle. As an added plus, the website also lists 24 bullet points covering most of the things that Obamacare will change.
If you want something a bit more scholarly, Obamacare Exchanges Open: The New Law Explained in Seven Easy Steps uses President Obama's own words to explain several main points of the plan, answering questions about how it will affect health care costs, how it will impact small businesses, and the positive effect that it may have on family finances. And, for those who like bullet points, the White House has put together a list of their own.
Speeches and bullet points and detailed explanations are all well and good, but if you're one of those people who likes to get their weighty explanations with a spoonful of sugar, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation's new video, "The Youtoons Get Ready for Obamacare" does a great job of explaining most of the ins and outs of the new law. It's hard to find a better ground-level understanding of how the new law will affect your life.
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