The Obama admnistration will announce today that Americans will be given additional time beyond the March 31 deadline to enroll in mandatory health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
The move is the latest of numerous White House changes to the timeline, terms and implementation of the contentious health law.
While officials insist the March 31 deadline is still in effect, people who initiate enrollment on the federal insurance marketplace, HealthCare.gov, but are unable to complete the process by the end of March will be granted an extension and will not face financial penalties under the law's "individual mandate," which requires most Americans to have health insurance or face a fine when they file their taxes in 2015.
The additional wiggle room is similar to the enrollment extensions granted by the administration in December when millions of people were scrambling to enroll in coverage that began on January 1, 2014.
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Officials expect a similar crush of people to visit HealthCare.gov this weekend and want to make sure those who try to enroll can do so - even if the website malfunctions under the increased user load.
"Open enrollment ends March 31," said Joanne Peters, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services. "We are experiencing a surge in demand and are making sure that we will be ready to help consumers who may be in line by the deadline to meet complete enrollment - either online or over the phone."
Health law advocates working to enroll as many people as possible will no doubt hail the extension, but the move could exascerbate a growing credibility gap between the White House, insurers and lawmakers who have struggled to adapt and accommodate the administration's messy implementation ofthe health law.