The Obama administration has extended until March 31, 2014, the "individual mandate" deadline to purchase health insurance on the new state health exchanges to avoid paying a tax penalty, but it apparently wasn't for the reason you're thinking.
The Department of Health and Human Services says the move has nothing to do with the widely lambasted computer glitches that have kept earnest shoppers and lookie-lous alike from gaining access to plans and prices on the federal HealthCare.gov site since it opened for business Oct. 1.
No; instead, the department says it extended the individual mandate deadline an additional six weeks in order to align the be-covered-or-pay cutoff date with the March 31 end of the inaugural open-enrollment period on the new exchanges.
Mandate calendar has been confusing
The mandate requires most Americans to carry health insurance or face the penalty, starting Jan. 1. But you can go without insurance for part of a year and still meet the requirement. There was considerable confusion about whether Americans who signed up for coverage during the January-March half of open enrollment would be spared the tax penalty. The Washington Post reports that the Jackson Hewitt tax firm had calculated that someone signing up after mid-February could be penalized.
The announcement of the extension buys the Obama administration additional time to address serious online infrastructure problems that have impeded its goal to sign up 7 million uninsured for health coverage during Obamacare's initial open-enrollment period. The computer failures have proven especially vexing because one of the administration's key target groups, the healthy "young invincibles" ages 18 to 29, are so accustomed to online shopping.
The rough rollout of HealthCare.gov has delayed insurance signups in the 36 states that opted to use the federal portal as their exchange rather than build their own state-specific online marketplace as provided for under the Affordable Care Act.
State-based exchanges fare better
While state-built sites also have struggled under the load of heavy consumer traffic, some -- including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington state -- have fared better by eliminating the initial login barrier and letting consumers window-shop before entering their personal data.
Hearings have begun on Capitol Hill to address what went wrong with the HealthCare.gov portal, with both Democrats and Republicans puzzled as to why they weren't told of possible rollout problems prior to launch.
On Monday, President Barack Obama called the website woes inexcusable and vowed to fix them soon, while Republican opponents called the site a "train wreck" and yet another reason to defund the President's signature legislation.
What's your take? Will a balky website stand in the way of affordable health insurance for millions of uninsured Americans?
Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus.
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Jay MacDonald is a Bankrate contributing editor and co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book by Bankrate editors and reporters.