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Obamacare 101: Enroll by March 31 to avoid penalty, White House clarifies (+video)

'If you sign up for insurance by the end of March, you will not face a penalty,' the White House said late Wednesday. Originally, the Obamacare law had been interpreted as giving people until Feb. 15, 2014, to have health coverage. Calls mount, including by Democrats, to give folks more time.

Obamacare deadline extended
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The Obama administration has clarified the deadline by which Americans must sign up for health insurance to avoid paying a penalty. That deadline is in fact March 31, not Feb. 15,  according to guidance released by the White House Wednesday night.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare,” allows Americans to be uninsured for three consecutive months in a calendar year without penalty. The individual mandate to buy insurance begins on Jan. 1, 2014, which means an individual can go without insurance through March 31, 2014, and not pay a fine.

Originally, the law was interpreted to mean that a person had to have coverage in effect by March 31. In the health-insurance exchanges – i.e, Healthcare.gov and the 14 state-run exchanges – that meant enrolling by Feb. 15 for a policy that starts March 1. Health-insurance policies begin on the first of the month, and so if one waited until after Feb. 15, the policy would not go into effect until April 1.

Now, the White House statement says, “If you sign up for insurance by the end of March, you will not face a penalty.”

The White House maintains that the timing of the individual mandate has not changed.

“The deadline for signing up for insurance is March 31,” said the guidance released Oct. 23 by Assistant White House Press Secretary Jessica Santillo. “It was true this morning. It is true tonight.”

The Obama administration has faced growing pressure to extend the deadline to buy health coverage, especially since the problem-riddled launch of Healthcare.gov on Oct. 1. On Oct. 22, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire became the first Democrat to make that call.

"Given the existing problems with the website, I urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014. Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options, and enroll," Senator Shaheen wrote in a letter to the White House.

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