UPDATE II: The White House is seemingly refuting NBC's report.
"NBC is wrong again," tweeted Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest. "Individual mandate timing hasnt changed. Deadline for having insurance is March 31. Was true this am. Is true tonight."
UPDATE: NBC News reports the Obama administration will delay the Obamacare individual mandate by as long as six weeks following the glitch-ridden rollout of the health care law's website, healthcare.gov.
White House officials are reportedly considering postponing the deadline for when Americans need to be enrolled in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, according to a new report from MarketWatch.
This means that the Obama administration may also hold off on penalizing people who fail to sign up for coverage during the enrollment period.
Obamacare requires most Americans to be enrolled in health insurance by Jan. 1, 2014.
True, the law allows for a “short coverage gaps” of up to three months before the fines take effect, but after that period has passed, the law calls for a penalty of $95 or one percent of a person’s income (whichever is greater).
The final day to purchase health insurance on the Obamacare online exchanges is March 31, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson confirmed to MarketWatch.
“But because the new health policies take effect on the first day of each month, in order to be covered by March 31, people would actually need to have insurance by March 1. And since it takes up to two weeks to process insurance applications, consumers would have to apply by Feb. 15,” the report notes.
“The Administration, however, has recognized that there’s a ‘disconnect’ between the actual and effective deadlines, as the deadline to get health insurance in time to comply with the ACA is currently six weeks earlier than the final deadline to buy it,” the report adds.
An HHS spokesperson said the Obama administration is working to sync the two deadlines.
The administration has not made a final decision as to whether it will delay the deadlines. The error-plagued Healthcare.gov website is presumably behind the consideration.
“The administration declined to say whether people who purchase health coverage late in the enrollment period—say, on March 31—would be exempt from a penalty, even if their policy doesn’t kick in until April or May,” MarketWatch reports.
“Nor would the department give a specific date by which people would need to buy coverage to escape a fine,” the report adds.
Still, the HHS spokesperson said the administration may extend the deadline beyond Feb. 15.
“We are exploring options currently and will issue guidance at a later date,” the spokesperson said.
This latest news is particularly interesting considering the harsh criticism Republicans took from the president and his allies for trying to delay the mandate. Republicans said they wanted to delay the mandate until the kinks in the health care law have been worked out.
And here’s something else from the MarketWatch report:
There is another sign that the penalty policy may be in flux: While HHS referred MarketWatch’s previous inquiries about the fine, and the deadline to avoid it, to the Treasury, a spokesperson there referred a request Wednesday back to HHS, suggesting that the health officials are now the ones writing new rules for the law.
“It’s worth noting that the open enrollment period has already been extended to a full six months this year for the implementation of the ACA: In future years, people will have a few months in the fall to enroll in health insurance starting the following January,” the report adds.
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This post has been updated.