Merry Christmas: Obamacare Enrollment Deadline Extended Again

Critics say Obamacare administrators have gotten desperate in their attempts to promote a doomed plan.

Healthcare.gov has delayed the enrollment deadline from Dec. 23 to 11:59 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
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Today, the Obama administration delayed the enrollment deadline for insurance through healthcare.gov 24 hours without any fanfare, extending the sign-up period to one minute before midnight on Christmas Eve, according to the Washington Post. [ READ: 1 Million Have Signed Up for Obamacare, Obama Says]This latest holiday surprise is unlikely to shock anyone as the entire rollout process has been peppered with false starts, fake deadlines and rule changes. One of the most significant changes happened Friday when the Department of Health and Human Services announced that consumers whose plans had been canceled as a result of the health care overhaul could purchase catastrophic health insurance plans or opt out of the process entirely. Critics say this particular policy twist could ultimately sabotage the law.HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's decision last week to expand the number of people who would be released from fines for not complying with the individual mandate was a direct response to a request from Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. Warner and five other senators asked for clarification regarding the definition of "hardship exemptions" in a letter dated Dec. 18. The senators argued that individuals whose health plans were canceled because of Obamacare and whose new health plan options were unaffordable deserved "transition relief." These individuals should be granted "hardship exemptions" and the option of purchasing a lower-cost catastrophic plan, regardless of their age, wrote Warner.Sebelius thanked the senators for their suggestions and agreed to both revisions. (See both letters here). The result is that a broader swath of the population would now be legally exempt from fines if they did not comply with the individual mandate by enrolling in and paying for new health plans.[ ALSO: Obamacare Weakens Insurance Mandate Again]To many critics, Friday's announcement was a direct reversal of Obama's previous stance. In an editorial, The Wall Street Journal declared Obama Repeals Obamacare:

What an incredible political turnabout. Mr. Obama and HHS used to insist that the new plans are better and less expensive after subsidies than the old "substandard" insurance. Now they're conceding that at least some people should be free to choose less costly plans if they prefer—or no plan—and Obamacare's all-you-can-eat benefits rules aren't necessary for quality health coverage after all.The Journal noted the decision to expand the exemptions even marginally invites a "blanket hardship amnesty for everyone," an idea it urged Republicans to attempt. The editorial also forecast price spikes next summer, as insurance providers brace for more government revisions to policy.The latest policy shifts are one of many. In July, Obama announced he would delay the mandate that employers must offer insurance to employees until 2015, according to Politico. The deadline for enrollment in individual health plans that would begin on New Year's Day was delayed from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23, but is now extended another day. The deadline for complying with the health care law without receiving a fine was also delayed as was the deadline for paying the first month's premiums to insurance providers.In a press conference Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama addressed this latest shift in policy concerning exemptions saying it was meant to provide "an additional net in case people might have slipped through the cracks."Juliette Forstenzer Espinoza, executive director of the Health Care Rights Initiative, said, "This waiver addresses a real practical concern for real individuals on the ground who were not adequately prepared for the cancellations." She believes the decision was fair and ethically motivated. Espinoza concedes however that a better idea might have been to create a specialized navigation system for this particular group of consumers so that they might also meet the policy goal of getting insurance coverage.  [POLL: Obamacare Scores Win, Loss for Obama's Presidency]