UPDATE: 40 State Exchanges Issue Vaguely-worded Enrollment Extensions. Sort of. I think.

Last spring, in light of the massive last-minute crush of enrollees, caused partially by the even more massive early technical issues at HC.gov and various state exchanges, the administration announced a 15-day "waiting in line" extension period which allowed anyone who had started the process as of midnight on March 31st, 2014 to have until April 15th to complete their enrollment checkout. It was a huge success, and resulted in an additional 900,000 people selecting a plan.

A few of the individual state exchanges even went beyond that, with either "full" or "waiting in line" extensions that bumped all the way out to the end of April or even May, in the case of Nevada...but at least there were specific dates given.

Yesterday, in response to a devastating 9-hour income verification system outage which prevented an unknown number of people from getting through the system, the HHS Dept. gave a vague announcement that:

...If you can’t submit your completed application, just save it. If you do, we'll make sure you can return later to finish and enroll for March 1 coverage.

The statement in this CNN Money story is no more specific:

Some applicants hit a bump Saturday when a technical issue left the federal exchange unable to verify their income and complete the sign-up process. Healthcare.gov officials said the issue was resolved later in the day, and consumers who weren't able to submit their applications should return to the site or contact the call center to complete their enrollment.

Consumers who can't meet the submission deadline because of a technical issue will be provided with a "special enrollment period," they said.

OK, that's great, but...

  • Does that only apply to those hit by the income verification outage specifically?
  • Does "a technical issue" refer to just that 9-hour period, or to anyone who had other technical glitches?
  • Does it include people who create an account or start their application today?
  • Does it mean anyone who couldn't load the site or get someone on the phone?
  • And finally, is there a particular cut-off date, like last spring's 4/15? Both CoveredCA and NY State of Health gave hard cut-off dates (2/20 and 2/28 respectively)

Healthcare.Gov, of course, covers 37 states, so this is kind of important.

I should note that last week (well before yesterday's IRS income verification outage), CMS administrator Andy Slavitt stated, on the record, that:

If people "have been working on an application and it hits the stroke of midnight, they are going to be able to continue on their application, and we will make sure that anybody that's in line gets to enroll," CMS principal deputy administrator Andy Slavitt said last week.

That makes it sound like anyone who started their application by midnight tonight will be able to wrap it up...but again, no particular cut-off date was given.

Meanwhile, both Rhode Island and Colorado have given equally vaguely-worded extension notices for either technical or weather-related reasons:

"Due to severe weather conditions, HealthSource RI’s Contact Center and Walk-in at 70 Royal Little Drive in Providence and its Walk-in Center at 1923 Post Road in Warwick are closed today.

Contact Center staff will not be available by phone today; however, new and renewing customers can compare, choose and pay for a plan online. There also will be a Special Enrollment Period available through Monday, February 23, for customers unable to enroll today due to the closing."

Does that only apply to people in Providence, or the entire state? Is it a "full" extension or only for people who start the process by midnight tonight?

"Meanwhile, Web traffic surged at Connect for Health Colorado, as did wait times to its Colorado Springs-based call center, said Curtis Hubbard, an exchange spokesman. He stressed that people who begin enrolling by Sunday's deadline will be able to finish it later in the week."

Later in the week? Thursday? Friday? Doesn't say.

An additional twist: Tomorrow is Presidents Day, which means that many federal/state offices will be closed. Why on earth they decided to make today the official cut-off, I have no idea: Not only is it a Sunday, but yesterday was Valentine's Day and tomorrow is Presidents Day.

UPDATE: OK, add Washington State to the "non-specific-waiting-in-line-by-midnight" pile (although in WA's case, while the article says 10pm, the exchange says it's actually 11:45pm):

Officials at the exchange say those who have experienced technical problems during the enrollment period will be given more time to sign-up after the open enrollment period ends.

It sounds to me like this time around the exchanges are all waiting until after the official enrollment period is over before letting the "wait in liners" know how long they have to come back and wrap things up.

UPDATE: Connecticut is refreshingly specific and clear-cut about not allowing any exceptions to tonight's deadline:

Individuals who do not enroll by midnight tonight, and do not have an exemption, will be subject to a federal tax penalty. For 2015, the federal government will assess a penalty of two percent of the total household income over the federal income tax filing threshold, or $325 per individual and $162.50 per child, or $975 for families, whichever is greater.