Politics
President Barack Obama addresses his year-end news conference in the White House briefing room in Washington, Dec. 20, 2013. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst) President Barack Obama addresses his year-end news conference in the White House briefing room in Washington, Dec. 20, 2013. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)  

Obama changes Obamacare deadline, again

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Administration officials have surreptitiously extended the Obamacare sign-up deadline to one minute short of Christmas Day, in yet another effort to goose enrollment numbers.

The decision also creates yet another implementation problem for executives at the health-insurance companies, who allied with Obama to push the law through Congress in 2010.

The unannounced change is hidden in software code, which was modified to extend the deadline for people seeking insurance starting Jan. 1.

The new software change extends it from Dec. 23 to 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 24, according to The Washington Post’s report.

The reduced time between sign-up and the start-day is a problem for the insurance companies, who need to complete registering customers in their databases.

If the task can’t be done in time, the companies and their customers may face extra burdens and costs if the customers get medical services before they are properly registered.

The deadline was originally Dec. 15, but was extended to Dec. 23 when fewer people than expected sign up for the expensive and restricted health-plans offered by Obama.

The last-minute change is another in a long series of changes that the White House has adopted to save its crashing program, but which are expected to increase costs and burdens on the insurance companies.

For example, top government officials are now pressing the companies to provide cheap drugs, plus access to doctors, to people who have not completed enrollment during the next few weeks. The industry’s chief lobbying group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, is pushing its corporate members to accept Obama’s demands.

“Consumers who select their plans by December 23 and pay the first month’s premium by January 10 will now be able to have coverage retroactive to January 1,” says a statement on the AHIP website.

The administration’s efforts to fix its political problems are expected to cause many short-term and long-term problems to the companies and their insurance executives.

For example, the president has decided to cancel the tax penalty for roughly five million people whose pre-Obamacare insurance was killed by his new network. But by ending the threat of a tax penalty, Obama has also reduced pressure on the young and healthy to buy the expensive Obamcare plans.

Without the monthly premiums from those young and healthy people, the insurances’ companies will likely lose money by providing requires services to their many older and sicker customers.

The resulting losses will likely cause the insurance companies to ask regulators in mid-2014 to approve sharp price hikes during 2015. Politicians will want to oppose the price hikes, leaving the companies facing the prospect of even greater financial losses.

The companies likely won’t get much support from GOP politicians, partly because the executives and their trade group backed Democrats and the Obamacare law in 2010.

Before the Obamacare website was launched on Oct. 1, Officials had predicted that 3.3 million people would have signed up by the end of December.

But by Dec. 22, only 890,000 people have picked a plan on the partly-operational Obamcare website, according to the Post’s article.

The number of people who intend to the picked plan, and who have completed the transaction, however, may be far less than the 890,000 number.

Administration officials say they will release more data about the sign-up numbers in mid-January.

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