White House gives Americans six more weeks to buy insurance

Adjustment gives consumers until March 31 to purchase a plan

The Obama administration on Wednesday said it would adjust the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) individual mandate to give U.S. residents an extra six weeks to obtain coverage before being penalized.

The six-month open enrollment period for individuals to purchase coverage on the federal and state exchanges began on Oct. 1 and is scheduled to end on March 31. Under the ACA, individuals who go at least three months without insurance coverage will face a penalty for being uninsured starting in 2014. Previously, the administration had said individuals would need to enroll in a qualified health plan by Feb. 15—for coverage to take effect by March 31—to avoid those penalties.

An administration official on Wednesday said the White House "is working to align those policies" to protect individuals who enroll in coverage between Feb. 15 and March 31 from paying a fine and "will issue guidance soon."

Administration officials: This is not a delay

White House officials clarified that the decision was not motivated by technology issues that have plagued the federally run exchanges.

Further, the officials also said the adjustment would not be considered a delay of the individual mandate because the deadline for purchasing coverage by March 31 would remain in place. In a tweet, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest reiterated that individuals still would be required to have coverage in the 2014 tax year, saying the "[i]ndividual mandate timing hasn't changed."

The problematic roll out of the exchange has prompted several lawmakers, including some Democrats, to call on the administration to extend the open enrollment period, delay tax penalties, or grant an exemption to those who have tried unsuccessfully to enroll in coverage through Healthcare.gov.

According to The Hill's "Healthwatch," Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is preparing to introduce a bill that would delay the individual mandate for one year, while Sens. Mark Begich (D-Ala.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in recent weeks have suggested extending the open enrollment period (Somashekhar et al., Washington Post, 10/23; Kliff, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 10/23; Pear, "In Practice," New York Times, 10/23; Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/23).

Get ready for the exchanges

When health insurance exchanges go live next year, you'll be competing for up to 24 million newly insured patients. Being ready will be the difference between 24 million challenges and 24 million opportunities.

Watch the video to learn how to prepare for the exchange "tsunami."

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