US President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act, the new healthcare laws, alongside people who have already benefitted from the legislation, new registrants, small business owners and representatives from partner organizations, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, October 21, 2013. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
David Jackson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is seeking to clarify penalty rules for people who delay signing up for coverage under the new health care law.
Simply put: People who wait until the end of the initial enrollment period - March 31 - will not be penalized.
The Obama administration is preparing legal guidance to address a confusion of dates in the law, which says people must sign up by the 15th of one month to receive coverage on the first of the next month.
That means someone who signed up after Feb. 15 would not be covered until April 1 - and the law also says that people who go three months without coverage are subject to penalties, $95 or 1% of income, whichever is higher.
That is not the case, the White House says.
Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services "are working to align the policies, the disconnect between the open enrollment period and the individual responsibility timeframes, which exist on the first year only," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
In effect, the guidance means that people have an extra month and a half to sign up for a health care exchange without penalty, though the enrollment period still ends March 31.
In the meantime, HHS officials are also working to fix problems with the HealthCare.gov website, which is blocking some people from enrolling in health exchanges.