Another Day Another Delay

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The Obama administration will extend the March 31 open enrollment deadline for people who say they tried to sign-up for coverage on the new healthcare exchanges but failed to complete the process on time.

While the Office of Health and Human Services (HHS) is officially sticking to the rule book by insisting that open enrollment ends March 31, The Hill reports that Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters said an email Tuesday evening, “We are experiencing a surge in demand and are making sure that we will be ready to help consumers who may be in line by the deadline to complete enrollment – either online or over the phone.”

Though no official extension dates are posted on the HHS website, news of the extension found its way into most national outlets, such as The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. The Wall Street Journal’s opinion column today reports the HHS announcement as an indefinite extension for those people that check a box that they had difficulty signing up.

Critics of the law are saying that the Obama administration continues to operate outside the legal system, with one illegal and unconstitutional extension after another. A story today in FrontPage, a right wing publication, says that this extension is the most egregious thus far.

And critics are coming to the table with some level of credibility, quoting HHS spokeswoman Julie Bataille, who said earlier this month, “We have no plans to extend the open enrollment period.” Then she went on to add, “In fact, we don’t actually have the statutory authority to extend the open enrollment period in 2014.”

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius confirmed Bataille’s statement the following day at a March 12 House Ways and Means hearing. “Are you going to delay the open enrollment period beyond March 31?” She replied categorically, “No, sir” and “There is no delay beyond March 31.”

According to some reports, the expanded enrollment period was part of the legislation that allowed for late enrollments due to exceptional circumstances such as natural disasters, earthquakes, and the like. In this case, the HHS interpretation of these circumstances includes the disaster that was the launch of the enrollment period last fall. The HHS will make no attempt to verify any difficulties reported by late enrollees. They will be using the honor system.