The deadline for Americans to sign up for health insurance is coming up fast. In order to have coverage at the start of 2014, applications must be submitted by 11:59PM Eastern time tonight. Update, 12:57PM: The White House has extended the deadline by one day, reports The New York Times.
It's the deadline that will determine how much damage was done by the botched launch of Healthcare.gov, the federal online health insurance marketplace that has suffered extensive technical problems. The last minute rush today will also be a final test for how well the website is operating after two month of tech fixes.
Healthcare.gov has been working for most people since the administration deployed its emergency tech team. However, 10 percent of applications still had errors earlier this month and some users are still having problems.
The deadline was originally December 15, but the administration extended it in light of the website errors. The president and health department officials have also been encouraging people to sign up by phone, in person, or by mail, although that last option is no longer guaranteed to lead to coverage starting January 1st.
Less than a million people have signed up so far
Officials also feared that problems with the website would prevent people from getting enrolled in time and cause them to incur fines under the Affordable Care Act. The fines are $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater.
There are many exemptions from the fines based on hardship, and individuals are also allowed a three-month gap in coverage every year, so most people should still be able to avoid a penalty if they sign up by March.
A million people have signed up for healthcare through the state and federal exchanges so far, according to the administration, short of the hoped-for 3.3 million. An additional 3.9 million new people have qualified for Medicaid, however, which significantly lowers the uninsured rate.