BLOG: Health plans free to forgive procrastinators

March 26, 2014

HHS prepares for an enrollment surge on March 31

On March 25, the federal healthcare.gov site experienced the second consecutive day of more than 1 million visitors. With all this last-minute traffic, instinct tells me technical problems are a real possibility in the waning days of open enrollment.

Federal officials, however, promise that healthcare.gov is prepared for the expected surge and can manage 100,000 concurrent users, meanwhile, the call center is staffed with 14,000 reps. 

“We know people will wait until the last minute,” says Julie Bataille, director of communications for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

HHS does not have the statutory authority to extend open enrollment past March 31, but consumers aren’t completely out of luck. For example, private health insurers have the leeway to offer forgiveness to procrastinators.

“There may be situations, depending on what plans offer, where consumers will be able to get coverage outside of the Marketplace, but that is at the issuer’s choice,” Bataille says. “Marketplace open enrollment ends March 31, which means most consumers will not have another opportunity to enroll until next year.”

For those who get stuck waiting in line when the clock strikes midnight on Monday, HHS is willing to allow them to finish the process and get their coverage if they can attest to the fact that they were trying to sign up. Officials are not clear on exactly how or if HHS will verify attestations-which consumers will self-report on their applications.

While Bataille won’t go so far as to say it’s the honor system, she says most people are “truthful” on federal documents. Sounds like the honor system to me.

It could be “a few days to a week or so” for everyone who’s piled up to get through the queue after deadline, Bataille says. That sounds a bit understated to me, too.

The one data point that won’t be understated will be the total number of people signing up for health coverage.