Obamacare

By Sandhya Somashekhar, Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin
Thursday, October, 24, 2013

The Obama administration said Wednesday night that it will give Americans who buy health insurance through the new online marketplaces an extra six weeks to obtain coverage before they incur a penalty.

The announcement means that those who buy coverage through the exchange will have until March 31 to sign up for a plan, according to an official with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Administration officials said that the rejiggered deadline is unrelated to the many technical problems that have emerged with the Web site, HealthCare.gov, in its first three weeks. Instead, they said, it is designed to clear up a timing confusion about the 2010 law, which for the first time requires most Americans to buy health coverage or face a penalty.

Under the law, health plans available through the new federal or state marketplaces will start Jan. 1, but the open enrollment period runs through the end of March. The law also says that people will be fined only if they do not have coverage for three months in a row. The question has been this: Do people need to be covered by March 31, or merely to have signed up by then, given that insurance policies have a brief lag before they take effect?

The administration made clear Wednesday night that people who buy coverage at any point during the open enrollment period will not pay a penalty.

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