President Obama is extending the March 31 healthcare insurance enrollment deadline for those who've already started signing up via the Affordable Care Act's market exchange but haven't completed the process. This means that if you began purchasing a healthcare plan on Healthcare.gov, or through other offline mechanisms via Navigator groups, but the transaction has not been completed, you will not be penalized.
As Julie Bataille, director of communications for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services explained it on a press call this afternoon, "Just like on Election Day, if you were in line when the polls closed, you still were able to vote. The same applies here if you were already in line for health insurance when the deadline came."
Bataille stressed that the deadline technically is still five days from now, but that this extension is owed in part to the malfunctioning Healthcare.gov website and also the expected surge of people who will begin signing up at the last minute. If you take advantage of the extension, the federal government will take you on your word that you began the transaction, as it does not have an actual verification system for this.
There is precedent for this. Back in 2006, when President George W. Bush was pushing his new Medicare prescription drug benefit plan, he extended the deadline for signing up for the program for low-income elderly users.
According to the Washington Post, people who qualify in that "special enrollment" group will have until mid-April to close out on a a plan -- just in time to pay taxes. But after that, if you are not an official enrollee and are not insured elsewhere (through your parents if under 26 or employer), you will be assigned a penalty on your taxes and will not have another chance to enroll until 2015, with few exceptions.
These pie graphs below, released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation, show that roughly six in 10 people are unaware there was a deadline to begin with.
Read more on what we've learned thus far on Obamacare from Kai Wright's news feature today.