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National and world

December 24, 2013

Last-minute insurance shoppers get 1-day extension

CHICAGO — Anticipating heavy traffic on the government’s health care website, the Obama administration effectively extended Monday’s deadline for signing up for insurance by a day, giving Americans in 36 states more time to select a plan.

The grace period — which runs through today — was the latest in a series of pushed-back deadlines and delays that have marked the rollout of the health care law.

Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the federal agency in charge of the overhaul, said the grace period was being offered to accommodate people from different time zones and to deal with any technical problems that might result from a last-minute rush of applicants.

By Monday afternoon, the site had received a record 850,000 visits, five times the number logged by the same time last Monday, the administration said. Bataille said the system was handling the volume with error rates of less than 1 in 200 and response times of less than one second.

The Obama administration is hoping for a surge of year-end enrollments to show that the technical problems were merely a temporary setback. That would also go a long way toward easing concerns that insurance companies won’t be able to sign up enough young, healthy people to keep prices low for everyone.

But the grace period may have been a tacit acknowledgement that the website remains vulnerable to heavy traffic. What’s more, the delay offered critics of “Obamacare” another opportunity to argue that the law still isn’t working and that President Barack Obama keeps changing the rules.

In Ohio, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor called the deadline extension “a clear sign Healthcare.gov continues to struggle.”

“Consumers are already confused and insurers are overwhelmed with the administration’s last-minute changes, yet there seems to be no end in sight,” Taylor, a Republican who heads Ohio’s insurance department, said.

The administration was careful not to characterize today as a new deadline or an extension, likening the move instead to the Election Day practice in which people who are in line when the polls close are still allowed to vote.

Monday had been the deadline for Americans in the 36 states served by the federal website to sign up if they wanted coverage upon the start of the new year. The remaining states operate their own online marketplaces, and some of them also have extended their deadlines slightly.

As the deadline drew new, more than 1 million people visited the website over the weekend, and a federal call center received more than 200,000 calls. �

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