April 16 (Bloomberg) -- For Obamacare procrastinators, time’s up.
Yesterday was the last day of a two-week health-law extension for hundreds of thousands of people who couldn’t finish their enrollment by March 31, the official deadline to sign up for a federally subsidized insurance plan in 2014.
In Palm Beach County, Florida, the offices of the Legal Aid Society were “packed,” said John Foley, a supervising attorney for the group, a government-designated navigator for the law. “We’ve been doing better the last 15 days” than in days leading up to the March 31 deadline, he said.
The Obama administration announced the two-week extension March 25, out of concern that people who waited until the last minute might experience technical problems or other hurdles preventing them from finishing enrollment. The federal enrollment website, healthcare.gov, saw about 4.8 million visitors on March 31 and was taken down for repairs at least twice that day.
Starting today, Americans can sign up for private health plans using government insurance exchanges only if they experience a life-changing event such as marriage, the birth of a child or the loss of a job. They may be able to buy coverage on their own without a premium discount from subsidies and sign-ups continue year round for Medicaid, the government program for low-income people, which has been expanded in 26 states to cover more adults with low wages. The enrollment period for 2015 plans begins Nov. 15.
“Enrollment doesn’t stop,” John Gilbert, national field director for Enroll America, a Washington-based nonprofit allied with the White House, said in a phone interview. “There’s going to be Medicaid enrollment possibilities for folks all over the country. There’s going to be special enrollment periods. Opportunities abound, even after today.”
Alexis Aquino, of Lake Worth, Florida, said she signed up yesterday after seeing a sign promoting the law with a phone number for Foley’s group. Aquino, 30, who works at a jewelry store, said she wasn’t aware of the March 31 deadline and hadn’t previously tried to sign up for health coverage.
Aquino said she had been an actor and uninsured for “many years,” and wasn’t very familiar with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare. “Now that I’m trying to get back on my feet it’s kind of like, OK, you need to get health insurance,” she said in a phone interview.
Aquino said she considers herself healthy and previously paid for doctors’ appointments out-of-pocket. She chose a plan from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida for $31 a month, after subsidies.
About 7.5 million people had signed up for private plans using the law’s insurance exchanges by April 10, according to Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. health secretary. The total exceeds an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, made before the exchanges were crippled for two months by computer errors, that 7 million would sign up.
The CBO scaled back its projection to 6 million in February and affirmed it on April 14, saying the figure reflects average enrollment over the year, not a peak.
The Health and Human Services Department sent e-mail reminders yesterday to people who had created accounts on healthcare.gov without completing their enrollment.
“This is your final chance to get 2014 coverage,” the e-mails said.
Groups helping with enrollment said they didn’t expect many of their customers to be left without coverage.
“Nobody’s been left out here,” said Tim McKinney, president and CEO of the United Way of Tarrant County, in Fort Worth, Texas.
His organization leads a collaboration of navigator groups covering 212 of the state’s 254 counties. They assisted more than 30,000 people during the enrollment period and signed up 5,500 of them, he said.
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