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Two States Want to Extend Obamacare Deadline Because of Glitchy Websites

Pavel Ignatov/Shutterstock.com

At least two states are requesting a longer Obamacare enrollment period--and they might get it.

The Obama administration has been very clear that the enrollment deadline for health insurance purchased on the exchanges is March 31, and that it doesn't think it has the authority to extend it. But because some consumers continue to have trouble signing up, officials are eyeing a "special enrollment period" that would virtually extend the deadline to get coverage.

Nevada and Oregon hope to qualify for one of the health law's special enrollment periods. Consumers in both states have faced technical issues in getting coverage: Oregonians still don't have a functioning online exchange, and Nevadans are receiving error messages and hitting other site glitches reminiscent of HealthCare.gov's early days.

Just under 39,000 Oregonians and 29,000 Nevadans had successfully selected a plan as of March 1, according to data from the Health and Human Services Department--fewer than 1.6 percent of all Obamacare enrollees nationwide.

State exchange officials have reached out to HHS to request permission to extend the enrollment period. Oregon exchange spokeswoman Ariane Holm said the state is seeking an extension through the end of April. Nevada is looking at up to 60 days, as permitted by law.

Nicholas Bagley, a health law professor at the University of Michigan Law School, wrote a post on the "considerable discretion" HHS has in granting special-enrollment periods for The Incidental Economist, an economics and health blog. HHS, he said, has the legal authority to grant special enrollment periods for consumers who had tried to get coverage but could not.

HHS officials have avoided repeated questions about whether a state could qualify for a special enrollment period and emphasized that consumers should sign up by March 31, the end of open enrollment.

But the administration has already made some tweaks to that deadline, and it wouldn't be uncharacteristic to grant leeway to consumers who tried but could not get coverage, given the number of changes made last December in trying to get people insured who wanted coverage beginning Jan. 1. And just Friday, officials announced consumers with serious illnesses covered under the law's Pre-existing Condition Insurance Program can now select a new exchange plan through April 15.

The Wall Street Journal also reported Sunday that federal officials are working on a plan to allow consumers who tried but failed to get through HealthCare.gov by March 31 to sign up after the deadline.

Oregon officials, The Oregonian reported late last week, are hoping for a similar reprieve for the state's residents.

And in Nevada, the Las Vegas Sun reports, the state is already making unilateral moves to set up a special enrollment period. It's unclear whether Nevada has the authority, given that HHS has not issued guidelines for how the special-enrollment periods would work, but the board of directors of Nevada's exchange has a vote scheduled Thursday on the matter.

(Image via Pavel Ignatov/Shutterstock.com)

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