Filed Under:Markets, Employee Benefits

HHS eases Valentine's Day deadline conflict

(AP photo/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
(AP photo/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has helped clear up a deadline conflict that could have caused unexpected headaches for consumers who want to avoid the new penalties to be imposed on the uninsured.

The Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight (CCIIO), the HHS agency directly in charge of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) public exchange program and the HealthCare.gov federal exchange enrollment website, will be changing procedures that could have cut the amount of time consumers really have to sign up for coverage by about six weeks.

PPACA is set to impose a penalty of either $95, or 1 percent of income -- whichever is greater -- on individuals who fail to qualify for PPACA coverage ownership mandate exemptions and fail to have a minimum amount of coverage in place by March 31.

But officials acknowledged a few weeks ago that, because consumers who are using the new PPACA public exchanges need to buy coverage about six weeks before the coverage is supposed to take effect, consumers would really have to sign up for coverage by mid-February -- around Valentine's Day -- to have coverage in time to avoid the penalty.

The Valentine's Day enrollment problem was first pointed out by the Jackson Hewitt tax preparation company.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said last week that the Obama administration would take quick action to resolve the "disconnect" in the implementation of the law.

The move would not affect the Dec. 15 for consumers who want to get coverage through a PPACA exchange and have the coverage take effect Jan. 1.

The move also would not affect the underlying March 31 deadline for having coverage in place in time to avoid the PPACA individual mandate penalty.

The Valentine's Day conflict enrollment extension will be granted for 2014 only.

The administration "has determined that it would be unfair to require individuals in this situation to make a (penalty) payment," CCIIO officials said in annual enrollment guidance issued Monday evening.

Officials are providing the relief in the form of a special one-time hardship exemption for people who sign up for coverage by March 31. Eligible consumers won't have to file additional paperwork to apply for the exemption.

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