HHS grants extra time for special situations and applications started before March 31 deadline

The Associated Press

FILE - This Jan. 14, 2014 file photo shows President Barack Obama, accompanied by Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, speaking to the media before his Cabinet meeting, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. Millions of Americans could get extra time to enroll for taxpayer-subsidized coverage this year under President Barack Obama’s health care law, allowing the administration to boost sign-ups and the political fortunes of Democrats under attack over the program’s troubles. The Health and Human Services department Wednesday posted two documents that detail “special enrollment periods” for broad groups of people to access the new health insurance markets. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

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Officials said the grace period for people who've started applications by March 31 will be available on the honor system.

"It is important to recognize that this is an official federal application," said Bataille. "Most people are truthful when applying for these benefits."

How long the extension will last seems to depend on individual circumstances. HHS said it will process paper applications received by April 7. Those applying online may have more time, until April 15, the same as the tax filing deadline. People who are due tax refunds may be willing to put some of that money toward health care premiums.

The sign-up extension and the special enrollment periods follow other delays, most significantly of the law's requirements that medium- to large-sized businesses provide coverage or face fines.

Republicans are making repeal of the health care law their rallying cry in the fall congressional elections. If the various extensions succeed in boosting enrollment, that would help Democratic candidates, including politically vulnerable senators who voted for the law's passage in 2010.

The next open enrollment period isn't until Nov. 15, after the elections. Providing an option for sign-ups prior to that could give Democrats a rebuttal during the height of the campaign season that focuses on their efforts to fix the law's problems, rather than scrapping it.

The White House had signaled last week that a grace period of some sort was in the works. Officials compare it to the Election Day practice of allowing people to vote if they are in line when the polls close.

The administration's actions primarily affect the 36 states where the federal government is taking the lead on sign-ups. But the 14 states running their own websites are likely to follow, since some had been pressing for an extension on account of their own technical problems.

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Online:

Extension for those 'in line' — http://tinyurl.com/ojpku33

Special enrollment periods — http://tinyurl.com/ofjn3sc

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