Uninsured Americans to Have Until March 31 to Get Covered

The Obama administration is giving individuals who buy health insurance through government-run marketplaces until the end of March to enroll in a plan without a penalty, according to a White House statement.

The administration plans to issue guidelines soon to clarify the deadlines under President Barack Obama’s health-care law, according to the statement released tonight.

The open enrollment period extends from Oct. 1 to March 31. Under the law, anyone who isn’t covered for three months or longer faces a financial penalty for not having insurance. In order for the insurance to take effect, uninsured Americans would have to sign up by Feb. 15 to avoid facing fines.

The change effectively gives an individuals an extra six weeks to enroll.

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, said earlier via Twitter that the “individual mandate timing hasn’t changed.” The deadline to get insurance remains March 31.

Enrollments through online insurance exchanges, a central part of the health-care law that was Obama’s signature legislative achievement, have plagued by technical issues on the healthcare.gov website since its debut on Oct. 1.

The difficulties have spurred congressional hearings and calls from some congressional Republicans for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to resign.

Obama Frustrated

Obama, who said this week he’s frustrated by the website’s flaws, has drafted health-care entrepreneur and adviser Jeffrey Zients to lead the effort to fix the process. The government also is bringing technical specialists from outside the government to assist.

Sebelius and other administration officials met today at the White House with the heads of WellPoint Inc., Aetna Inc. and at least 10 other insurers to discuss correcting flaws in how data from the marketplaces are transferred to the companies.

House Republicans have seized on the technical defects with the exchanges to renew a push to delay implementation of the health-care law, known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

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