As the enrollment deadline for the latest Obamacare sign-up period expired Sunday night, Democratic senators urged President Barack Obama to approve an extension for people who face penalties for not having health insurance in 2014.
Eleven senators sent a letter to the Obama administration calling for the reprieve so that uninsured people who pay the 2014 tax penalty could enroll in health plans and avoid the higher fees for 2015, The New York Times reported.
"After paying the fee, these individuals may seek to purchase affordable health insurance and avoid a similar fee for 2015, only to discover that the open enrollment window closed on Feb. 15," the senators wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell.
Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Charles Schumer of New York, and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, all signed the letter, along with six others.
"Some Americans will realize too late that they will be forced to pay a penalty for not having health coverage," Heitkamp told the Times. "At the same time, they will no longer be able to sign up for that coverage because the enrollment period closed.
"We need to change that, and I hope the administration makes common-sense fixes so individuals and families have more time to sign up."
The Obama administration said it was taking the suggestion under advisement and expected to make a decision later this month, according to the Times.
Officials said they were now considering a "special enrollment period" for people who face tax penalties because they failed to sign up for health coverage last year, and who also missed the deadline to obtain coverage for 2015.
According to the paper, many people may not even realize they could incur a tax fee until they file their federal income tax returns by April 15, two months after the latest deadline for people to sign up for health insurance.
The Times said that hundreds of thousands of people had raced in the final days to beat the midnight deadline for HealthCare.gov, and that 60,000 people were trying to use the site on Sunday.
Some consumers who tried to sign up by phone with the federal exchange left their phone numbers when they were told that, due to "high call volume," the wait times could be as much as 30 minutes.
More than 10 million people had signed up for healthcare insurance under Obamacare during this sign-up cycle, the newspaper noted, adding that eight out of 10 people buying insurance through the public exchanges qualify for financial help.
Treasury officials said up to 6 million taxpayers could be hit with the penalties for not having health insurance in 2014, the Times added.
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