How you might get a little extra time to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act

If you’re having trouble enrolling in a health plan under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you may be able to breathe a short sigh of relief. The deadline for open enrollment is next Monday, March 31, but the Obama administration has decided to allow extra time for some people who haven’t been able to do so yet.

The administration announced earlier this week that people who have started to apply for health insurance but aren’t able to finish will get a grace period. It will be available on the honor system — applicants will have to attest that they had special circumstances that prevented them from finishing by the March 31 deadline. Technically, it’s not an extension of the deadline — I have not yet seen any specific date mentioned.

Yesterday, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued guidance on how/why someone would be able to select a plan outside of the open enrollment period. CMS created this chart to show categories of eligible people. When you apply, there is a box you can check if you fit into one of the categories.

CMS Guidance on selecting a plan outside of the open enrollment period

Limited Circumstance Special Enrollment Periods_Page_1

Limited Circumstance Special Enrollment Periods_Page_2

 Chart source: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

The main portal for insurance marketplaces in 36 states, including Maine, is I helped my daughter sign up for one of the plans recently and it was a fairly simply process, although she had to answer a number of questions to see if she would qualify for a tax credit, which she did.

If you want more information about the Affordable Care Act and how to choose an appropriate plan, the nonprofit organization Maine Health Access Foundation created The website connects people to free certified “assisters” who help review options, answer questions, and assist with enrollment.

For information about the Affordable Care Act and sign-up efforts in Maine, read this article by Sun Journal reporter Lindsay Tice. It was published in the Bangor Daily News before this week’s decision, but still offers useful information.

If you have questions and aren’t sure where to go for answers, send me a message and I’ll try to connect you with the right person.


Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.