HHS Makes HC.gov extension official; whither ACASignups.net?

Hat Tip To: 
(a bunch of people who sent the link)

I mentioned this briefly last night, but it's certainly worthy of its own entry.

I previously posted a whole bunch of entries about how various state-run exchanges are planning on extending their QHP enrollment deadlines for certain groups of people. The circumstances, revised deadlines and extension request process varies from state to state, but as of my last update, the list included Massachusetts, Oregon, Maryland, Nevada and possibly Vermont, Kentucky, Washington State and Colorado.

A couple of days ago, Minnesota jumped into the pool as well:

ST.PAUL, Minn. – Today, MNsure announced new procedures that will help people get coverage and avoid a federal tax penalty even if their enrollment isn’t complete when the deadline expires on March 31.

“It’s just like waiting in line to vote after the polls close; if a consumer can show that they have attempted to obtain coverage before the deadline, we will make sure they can complete their enrollment,” said interim CEO Scott Leitz.

As I said last week, at this point, why doesn't the HHS Dept. simply say 'screw it' and allow everyone who started the process by 3/31 an extension?

Well, yesterday they made it official:

The Obama administration has decided to give extra time to Americans who say that they are unable to enroll in health plans through the federal insurance marketplace by the March 31 deadline.

Federal officials confirmed Tuesday evening that all consumers who have begun to apply for coverage on HealthCare.gov, but who do not finish by Monday, will have until about mid-April to ask for an extension.

Under the new rules, people will be able to qualify for an extension by checking a blue box on HealthCare.gov to indicate that they tried to enroll before the deadline. This method will rely on an honor system; the government will not try to determine whether the person is telling the truth.

The rules, which will apply to the federal exchanges operating in three dozen states, will essentially create a large loophole even as White House officials have repeatedly said that the March 31 deadline was firm. The extra time will not technically alter the deadline but will create a broad new category of people eligible for what’s known as a special enrollment period.

With 36 states covered by Healthcare.gov, that leaves only 6 exchanges left. At this point, the question has to be turned around: Which states aren't going to allow a deadline extension of one type or another? So far, only Connecticut has made a definitive statement:

There will be no extension for CT residents applying for health care coverage, you must complete your app by midnight on 3/31 #GetCoveredNow

— Access Health CT (@AccessHealthCT) March 26, 2014

OK, so Connecticut is out. That leaves California, New York, Hawaii, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia.

I'm actually rather surprised about Hawaii, since their exchange is still one of the worst (last I heard), but whatever.

How will the post-3/31 exchange QHP enrollments be handled in terms of the "CBO 7M/6M Projection" numbers? 

I have no idea. I don't know whether HHS will include them on the March report (which would require waiting until after the extended deadline itself passes in "about mid-April"), or if they'll list them on a separate addendum report, or if they'll wait until May to release them as part of an April report.

Politically/media-spin-wise, I also have no idea how it'll play out. Obviously the Democrats and the Obama Administration will include them, and they should--these are still people enrolling in a new, ACA-qualified healthcare plan, and these policies are still going into effect during 2014. The CBO never said that 6M/7M would be enrolled by 3/31, just that it would be sometime in 2014. Now, this does not include the 2nd year open enrollment that starts in November, since those policies won't kick in until 2015, but it does and should include enrollments which start coverage this year.

That means anyone who has a Major Life Event (which qualifies you to enroll after 3/31) or fits into a number of other categories will count towards that CBO number as well.

However, this won't stop the Republican Party, the AFP/Koch Brothers and other ACA opponents from claiming that anyone who isn't enrolled by precisely midnight as of 3/31 "doesn't count". After all, they're still pushing the "how many have paid??" meme even though I've repeatedly pointed out that a good 1/3 of those enrollment payments won't even be due until weeks after the 31st. So, who the heck knows? I'll keep tracking them for awhile, which brings me to...

What does this mean for this website after Monday?

Well, I've already committed to keeping it up to date at least until both the March HHS Report and March CMS Report are released with the "final" official numbers through 3/31. These should come out around 4/12 (HHS) and perhaps 4/28 (CMS), give or take, based on earlier months. Perhaps a bit later, since there's probably some extra end-of-open-enrollment wrapup stuff that has to be added as well.

After that, I have no idea. My guess is that interest in the numbers (and this site) will drop off dramatically as the country moves on to other issues. Yes, Medicaid enrollment will still be open (and expansion will launch in Michigan and hopefully a few other states as well); the SHOP exchanges will remain open or finally launch; people will still be able to enroll in QHPs if they have Major Life Events (births, divorce, job loss, etc); Native Americans have their own situation; and so on.

However, for most people, watching the numbers change will lose their interest, and there are other things to talk about, after all. This I fully understand, believe me :)