As Americans scrambled to beat a deadline to sign up for insurance under President Barack Obama's new healthcare law, the White House gave consumers shopping on the program's website an extra day, until Dec. 24, to pick plans for coverage that starts Jan. 1.
The last-minute move by the Obama administration came on a day when officials reported record traffic on HealthCare.gov, the enrollment website that struggled with glitches after its launch in October.
The website has been repaired and officials said on Monday that it received 1 million visits over the weekend while a call center took 200,000 calls from those seeking insurance under the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
The hustle to sign up by the deadline for Jan. 1 coverage - which already had been extended once - seemed to be a positive sign for the Obama administration as it tries to patch up a botched rollout of the president's top domestic policy achievement - the law that requires Americans to get health insurance or face fines.
Obama was embarrassed that HealthCare.gov did not work for most people shopping for insurance for its first two months. He also wound up apologizing for promising that everyone who liked their existing insurance could keep it under Obamacare.
The backlash has torpedoed Obama's approval ratings, alarmed congressional Democrats facing re-election in 2014 and given a boost to Republicans opposed to the healthcare law.
The administration instituted a series of "fixes," but the resulting patchwork of exceptions and deadlines has upset insurance companies that fear the mixed messages could threaten the delicate financial formula around which Obamacare is designed.
On Monday, administration officials continued to encourage uninsured and under-insured Americans to enroll in Obamacare by midnight but acknowledged that those who sign up before Christmas Day would be eligible for coverage starting Jan. 1.
"If you are aiming to get coverage January 1, you should try to sign up" on Monday, Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a statement.
However, she said, "anticipating high demand and the fact that consumers may be enrolling from multiple time zones, we have taken steps to make sure that those who select a plan through tomorrow will get coverage for January 1."
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