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TUESDAY, April 1, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- An 11-hour wave of consumers descended on the federal HealthCare.gov website Monday, in search of health insurance as the first enrollment period for coverage under the Affordable Care Act drew to a close.
Quoting anonymous federal officials, the Associated Press reported late Monday that it was possible that the last-minute rush meant that more than 7 million uninsured Americans had signed up for coverage by the midnight Monday deadline.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reported Tuesday morning that Monday was a "record-breaking day of operations -- with more than 3 million visits to HealthCare.gov and more than 1 million calls to the call center as of 8 p.m."
Technically, some people can still sign up for health insurance even though the Monday deadline has passed. Last week, the Obama administration said that Americans who'd started applying for health insurance but couldn't complete the process by the March 31 deadline would be given an extension. Administration officials did not specify how long the extended enrollment period would last.
Officials said the extension was being offered partly out of concern that the federal HealthCare.gov website could become overwhelmed as last-minute registrants scrambled to meet the March 31 deadline or face a penalty in the form of a tax.
The prospect of 7 million Americans signing up for insurance under the controversial health reform law seemed unlikely as recently as last week, when federal officials were saying approximately 6 million people had registered for coverage.
And the troubled unveiling of the HealthCare.gov website last fall was still fresh in many people's memories, as computer glitches and software problems made the website almost unusable for long periods of time. Critics of the Affordable Care Act pounced on the troubled launch, which was deeply embarrassing to President Barack Obama. The health reform law, sometimes called Obamacare, is considered Obama's signature domestic achievement.
The White House still hadn't said by Tuesday morning how many consumers who had signed up for insurance had paid the first month premium, which is required to receive coverage.
In an interview with Oklahoma TV station KWTV, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said reports from insurers indicated that "somewhere between 80, 85, some say as high as 90 percent, have paid so far," The New York Times reported.
The federal website, which serves 36 states that do not operate their own registration websites, is now in a state of "transition" with new content to serve "consumers in meeting post-open enrollment needs," the CMS said in a news release.
The new homepage will have information for consumers on enrollment if they qualify for coverage outside of the just-concluded open enrollment period. These consumers include people experiencing a "major life change, such as marriage or job loss." There will also be information instructing consumers on how to use the new coverage, CMS said.
With some exceptions, people who are uninsured for most of 2014 may have to pay a penalty during next year's tax season under provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The maximum penalty for 2014 is $95 per adult and half of that for children (up to $285 for a family of three or more) -- or up to 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater.
According to the White House, one of the main objectives of the Affordable Care Act is to expand access to affordable health care options. The law led to the creation of the online marketplaces, or exchanges, where people in each state and the District of Columbia could compare health plans and sign up for coverage.
Now that the first enrollment deadline has passed, most Americans won't have another chance to sign up for coverage until the next open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15. Coverage purchased during that time won't take effect until 2015.
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SOURCES: April 1, 2014, news release, U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Associated Press; The New York Times