HealthCare.gov pushes back Jan. 1 enrollment deadline eight days

Consumer Reports

Consumers who need to sign up for new insurance that starts Jan. 1 now have an extra eight days to get the job done. On Friday, the federal government said that it’s pushing back the deadline for enrolling in plans effective Jan. 1 from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23.

“We want to give consumers as much time as possible,” said Julie Bataille of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She said the change was made “in ongoing conversations with insurers to make sure customers will be able to access what they need beginning Jan. 1.”

In the same call with reporters, Jeff Zients, whom President Obama put in charge of fixing the troubled HealthCare.gov site that is handling enrollment for 36 states, said that the site’s error rate is down to less than 1 percent, compared to 6 percent when it started, and that it can now handle as many as 25,000 users at once. By the end of next week, when the government has  promised the site “will work smoothly for the vast majority of users,” Zients said the capacity will double to 50,000 simultaneous users.

One of them is likely to be Sarah Wilson, 29, a self-employed grant writer and fundraising consultant from Chicago, who’s been trying to buy a plan through HealthCare.gov since its first  day of operation on Oct. 1. She has been without insurance since a policy she purchased while living in Michigan expired several months ago.

Wilson’s experience mirrors the government’s slow, incremental process of making the site function. “On Oct. 1, I couldn’t even get onto the site,” she said. “It was showing error messages.” (Not surprising, since we now know the first few thousand users crashed the site almost immediately.)

Eventually she was able to create a verified account and in the weeks since, she said: “I’ve been periodically going back to the website. Yesterday was the first time I got through the whole application. I did an electronic signature and signed off on it.”

But it's still not working perfectly smooth for her. As we were talking, Wilson logged back into HealthCare.gov. “Uh-oh,” she said. “It now says my application is incomplete.” It could not verify her Social Security number, possibly because she recently changed her last name to her husband's.  

“And I keep getting these emails saying there’s a message waiting for me in the marketplace, click here, but when I do it brings me to the homepage of HealthCare.gov and I can’t see where the messages are,” she said.

“The website is more functional than it was,” she said. “On a scale of 10, if I started at 1, maybe it's at a 3 now. I’m starting to feel like there’s hope, but it’s a very frustrating process.”

She wanted to say one more thing: “The experience at the website has not necessarily tarnished my idea about the law in general. Most of the negative things I’ve heard about Obamacare come from people who have insurance. The few people I know my age who are in my situation, they want insurance. Anyone is vulnerable to a catastrophe. I don’t think anybody likes being uninsured.”

Got a question for our health insurance expert? Ask it here; be sure to include the state you live in. And if you can't get enough health insurance news here, follow me on Twitter @NancyMetcalf.

Health reform countdown: We are doing an article a day on the new health care law until Jan. 1, 2014, when it takes full effect. (Read the previous posts in the series.) To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper, below.



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