The Obama administration on Thursday announced it would take steps to push back an already-delayed deadline to help those struggling to obtain health coverage on Jan. 1 -- and extend a federal insurance program for those with preexisting conditions.
Amid lingering questions about the health law's insurance exchanges, the tweaks were yet another attempt by the administration to quell concerns that the botched rollout of healthcare.gov would keep consumers from receiving coverage.
The administration had already delayed the deadline to receive insurance coverage on Jan. 1, moving the cut-off date from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23. On Thursday, they made yet another change.
“If an individual tries to sign up by Dec. 23rd but experiences an issue with the marketplace, they qualify for a special enrollment period and gain coverage as soon as possible,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in new guidance.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also said that insurers would be required to provide coverage to individuals who pay for their plans by Dec. 31. Previously, insurance companies could have set an earlier deadline for payment.
At the same time, the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program — which was supposed to expire at the end of this year — will continue through the end of January. Administration officials said the roughly 85,000 people in the program, generally more high-risk patients, needed more time to compare various Obamacare plans.
The administration championed the moves as flexible, consumer-oriented solutions.
“For millions of Americans, the security of health coverage is finally in reach,” Sebelius said in a conference call with reporters.
Yet, Republicans countered that another delay proved Obamacare wasn’t ready for primetime.
“Despite the administration's promises that Obamacare enrollment is on track, this announcement is a clear admission that Obamacare is failing Americans with pre-existing conditions who are losing the plans they already had,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement.
“How many extensions and waivers is it going to take for the administration to admit the consequences of Obamacare that are hitting millions of Americans they promised it would help?”
This story was published at 4:15 p.m. and has been updated.