Administration Extends Health Insurance Deadline Again
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene with Steve Inskeep. There's a lot of last-minute shopping going on today. And that goes for health insurance, too. Yesterday was supposed to be the deadline to sign up on the government's new insurance website for coverage that begins January first.
But the Obama Administration quietly granted a 24-hour extension, saying people who purchase a plan on the federal exchange by midnight tonight will be eligible for coverage on New Year's Day. And NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now to fill us in. Scott, good morning.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So another delay. This is just the latest twist in the whole drama of healthcare.gov. What's going on?
HORSLEY: Well, David, Christmas is still going to be December 25th.
HORSLEY: But all the other dates seem...
GREENE: Very good news.
HORSLEY: ...seem flexible here. You remember the deadline to sign up for January 1st coverage was originally going to be December 15th.
HORSLEY: And that was pushed back because of all the early problems with the website. And then yesterday, we learned the administration had quietly re-programmed its computers so that anyone signing up by midnight tonight would have coverage on New Year's Day. You can think of that as a consumer-friendly move.
It gives customers more time for customers to sign up for insurance. But it's sort of an unfriendly move towards the insurance companies, which were already working on a very tight schedule. And there is another danger here. You know, we know that people often wait for the last minute, especially young people, who need to be in these insurance risk pools.
And every time the administration moves the goalposts, there's the potential that people take these deadlines a little less seriously. So there could be unintended consequences.
GREENE: Yeah, I wouldn't turn my papers in college on time if I knew the professors were going to just keep moving the deadline along.
HORSLEY: Of course.
GREENE: Well, I mean, even with this extra day to sign up for insurance, it sounds like a lot of people were trying to get onto the website yesterday thinking the deadline was looming.
HORSLEY: Definitely. It was a record day yesterday at healthcare.gov, more than a million visitors to the site. Managers did employ their queuing system to keep from being overwhelmed. That's sort of the website equivalent of putting people on hold. Even with that heavy traffic, we're told the website performed reasonably well. Fairly fast response times, so low error rates.
The 800 call centers were also very busy. A lot of people there did experience some long wait times and people calling at peak times were advised to be sure they had their cell phones fully charged.
GREENE: In case it runs out of battery at the wrong moment. Well, Scott, we learned yesterday that one important person, President Obama, signed up for coverage over the weekend? I mean, is this something he had to do or was this to get some attention for the website?
HORSLEY: The latter, yes. The president signed up for a bronze insurance plan through the D.C. exchange. We don't know which company he signed up with but, you know, it doesn't really matter, because he's not going to be filing any insurance claims. Like most Americans who have insurance through their employer, he didn't really need an individual policy.
And as president, he has the added protection of military health care but the White House says he wanted to show support for the insurance exchange so he took this symbolic step. Now, of course, most people buying insurance on the exchange don't want symbolic coverage. They really want real coverage when they go to the doctor.
HORSLEY: So, now the pressure is going to be on in the next week to process all these last minute applications.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Scott Horsley joining us. Scott, thanks a lot.
HORSLEY: Good to be with you, David.
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