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8 extra days to sign up for 2014 health coverage

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration moved to accommodate consumers who are frustrated by the troubled website, giving Americans an extra eight days in December to sign up for health coverage for 2014 under the president’s health law.

Consumers were originally required to select a health plan by Dec. 15 to be covered Jan. 1. Americans will now have until Dec. 23 to select a plan that will start coverage at the beginning of the year, administration officials announced Friday.

Consumers have until Dec. 31 to pay for the health plan they select for it to be in effect Jan. 1.

After the Dec. 23 deadline, consumers can still get coverage, but it will not take effect until the month after they sign up. The open enrollment period is scheduled to end March 31 and, thus far, administration officials have declined to change that date, saying that they believe consumers will have enough time to get a health plan next year if they want one.

The extension of the December deadline is the latest in a series of changes the administration has made to the Affordable Care Act’s timetable to accommodate problems with the implementation of the mammoth law.

On Thursday, administration officials announced that next fall’s open enrollment period for coverage in 2015 would start a month later than originally scheduled, in mid-November rather than mid-October.

Administration officials said the delay would give insurers more time to adjust their rates for 2015 to deal with uncertainty caused by the chaotic rollout of the marketplaces this fall.

The decision also pushes the 2015 enrollment period past next fall’s midterm congressional elections, potentially sparing Democrats more bad press about enrollment problems or higher premiums.

Friday’s move to push back the December enrollment deadline may allow more consumers to get a health plan in time for the beginning of next year, a priority for many sick Americans who are widely expected to be most interested in getting coverage as soon as possible.

Many experts expect that there will be a surge of people trying to get coverage next month as the deadline approaches.

Jeffrey Zients, who is overseeing the White House’s efforts to rescue the troubled rollout of the law, said Friday that improvements to the website should allow 50,000 people to be on the website simultaneously by the end of this month.

He said that as many 800,000 people could be using the site per day.

“We think this gives us the capacity to reach everyone we need to reach,” Zients said.

Insurance companies, on the other hand, may have trouble processing a surge of enrollment so close to Jan. 1.

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