Americans will have until March 31 to sign up for health insurance without having to pay a penalty under the individual mandate, according to the Associated Press, a change in the implementation of Obamacare hinted at last week. Under the law and given the practical requirements of health insurers, people would previously have had to purchase a plan by about mid February to count as covered for 2014 and avoid the law’s uninsured fee (1 percent of one’s income or $95, whichever is greater).
As I explained last week when the White House first told the Washington Post they’d be making this change, the White House wants to pretend this is just fixing a mistake in the law — which, in some sense, it might be (since it doesn’t make a ton of sense to have open enrollment after you are legally required to buy insurance in a given year), it also amounts to an effective delay of the mandate, since people will now be able to start their coverage in April or possibly even May so long as they’ve enrolled by March 31. Under the law as written, going three months without health insurance in a given year would incur the individual mandate’s tax/penalty; this now won’t apply in 2014. This definitely is not, as some ACA proponents have claimed, an extension of the open-enrollment period, which is when plans will be available — they’re available for the same period, you can just buy them later while still following the individual mandate.