Today’s Obamacare Deadline Isn’t Really a Deadline

A blog about business and economics.
March 31 2014 4:35 PM

Today’s Obamacare Deadline Isn’t Really a Deadline

Obamacare / healthcare.gov
Don't worry. You've got plenty of time.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Today is, theoretically, D-Day for Obamacare sign-ups—the last chance Americans have to get insurance and avoid facing a tax penalty. Except, it’s not really. It’s more like one of those fake deadlines your history professor gave you for the first draft of your term paper, because she wanted you to at least think about setting foot in the library before then.

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services said it would offer an extension to anybody who was waylaid from obtaining insurance due to a glitch on healthcare.gov or some other administrative mishap. (There are also special exemptions for natural disaster and medical emergency victims, among others.) People who want the extra enrollment time need only to click a button on healthcare.gov saying that they tried to sign up for health insurance, but couldn’t. Nobody will double-check whether they are telling the truth. As the Washington Post wrote a few days back, it’s basically an "honor system."

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In other words, everybody has a homework extension.

The “special enrollment period” will probably wrap up in mid-April. But as The Verge notes, there’s currently no set end date, and the White House will only announce one “once it knows how many people are requesting exemptions.” When “special enrollment” draws to a close, Americans will only be able to get an additional extension for a narrower set of reasons, such as losing a job or having a child, and will have to apply by phone. (Though apparently nobody is going to check whether you really gave birth, either.)  

So realistically, you’ve got 15 to 20 days to wrap this up, people. Or maybe longer, if you can think of a really good excuse.

Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.

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