Obamacare Delayed (Again): 1 Day Longer and 2.3 Million People Short

Last-minute shoppers are getting an extra day. Not for buying Christmas gifts, but for purchasing health insurance.

Americans wanting to buy insurance through the HealthCare.gov website can do so through just before midnight on Christmas Eve and still get a Jan. 1 effective date. The White House quietly implemented the latest delay -- one of many over the last several months. Why the holiday surprise?

Source: HealthCare.gov

Forward thinking

When asked about the extra day, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, spokesperson Julie Bataille said that the official deadline for obtaining a Jan. 1 effective date for health insurance was still Dec. 23. However, Bataille noted that actions were taken to allow selection of plans on HealthCare.gov through the following day because the agency anticipated "high demand and the fact that consumers may be enrolling from multiple time zones".

Hmmm... How far in advance would someone have been able to predict that demand for signing up might pick up right before the deadline? You'd also think that somewhere within the vast resources of the federal government that at least one person might realize early on that there are multiple time zones in the U.S. And yet, according to The Washington Post, the Obamacare website was changed over the weekend to accommodate the delay. 

There could be another factor behind the last-minute decision. The enrollment period for the earliest effective date is now a day longer probably in large part because the enrollment numbers themselves are well short of projections. Back in September, Health and Human Services, or HHS, projected that 3.3 million Americans would be enrolled in health insurance plans by the end of the year. As of this weekend, the actual number was around 2.3 million below that goal.

Hope and hurdles

A mad dash to sign up by many individuals could make up at least part of the big gap. Federal officials are hoping so -- and they're also counting on the latest website change helping to handle a late surge. Several hurdles remain, though.

While the federal website appears to be in much better shape than it was just weeks ago, some problems persist. A potentially bigger issue, though, is whether the back-end systems will work as they should. As of the latter part of November, as much as 40% of those systems remained undeveloped.

Health insurers are reeling from the flurry of changes coming from the federal government over the past few weeks. Aetna (NYSE: AET  ) was just one major insurance company that decided it couldn't comply with the White House decision that canceled policies that didn't meet Obamacare's minimum benefits requirements could be reinstated. It remains to be seen how Aetna and others will be able to handle the most recent change. 

The next shoe to drop?

With changes and delays for Obamacare becoming something of a routine, the obvious question is what will be the next shoe to drop? One item possibly high on the list could really wreak havoc: a full delay of the individual mandate.

That mandate has already been pushed back for Americans whose policies were canceled. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, are proposing that all individuals get the same treatment by delaying the individual mandate for a year.

If this legislation gains traction and ultimately passes, expect a collective groan from the hospital industry. While hospital stocks have experienced tremendous gains over the last year in anticipation of the benefits from Obamacare, the chaos with the implementation process seems to have taken its toll on some major players.

Shares of Tenet Healthcare (NYSE: THC  ) , for example, have dropped 20% since early November. Community Health Systems' (NYSE: CYH  ) stock fell 13% during the same period. Even with these pullbacks, both stocks have roughly doubled over the past two years.

A delay in the individual mandate certainly isn't beyond the realm of possibility. What would be the biggest Obamacare surprise of all that could happen in the days ahead, though? That's a tough one, but here's perhaps the best answer: no more surprises.

Don't be surprised by how Obamacare impacts you

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Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2013, at 12:47 PM, norweb wrote:

    The water if barely warm, so all you fools who want to get Obamacare, go ahead and jump in. It will be a while before the IRS turns up the heat on the water and boil you.

    Good luck fools.......

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2013, at 1:55 PM, VROD2003 wrote:

    Last call for the Titanic~(ACA aka obama care). Hurry the ice berg awaits the passengers. It's maiden voyage parallels the first and only voyage. It to was plagued with problems as it was being built. SCRAP IT! HSA~Health Savings Accounts for every one. NO Exceptions!

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2013, at 3:29 PM, buzzltyr wrote:

    HaHa ha- Here is the problem with the republicans gloating over the website. Now we start putting real faces on Obamacare. Real middle class people who extend their lives by getting proper medical care. People with diabtes, operable cancer, cholesterol. Treatable conditions that are cheap to fix and will add years to peoples lives

    Good luck with the conservative whining

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2013, at 5:35 PM, starfish36 wrote:

    Private insurance companies had decades to fix things like "previous existing condition" exclusions, last minute cancellations, inadequate coverage for new preventive and diagnostic treatments, discrimination against women in rates and coverage, and lack of policy portability, but insurance companies did essentially nothing; hence government intrusion. There was no other way, except for other forms of government intrusion (e.g., single payer system). Insurance companies could not make the necessary reforms and still be sufficiently profitable in their view.

  • Report this Comment On December 25, 2013, at 9:17 AM, jimmyjim wrote:

    The Plague, Cancer, and such should not be treatable, nature put these in place to keep the number of humans in line now we have a run a way population that like a Virus destroys it's host (this Planet) I refuse to let a medical person treat me for anything beyond broken bones and such. no life extending meds or treatment I practice DNR by the way if you need the R from me you are in trouble

  • Report this Comment On December 25, 2013, at 10:29 AM, DANNOXX wrote:

    Hey Buzzy, obamacare is not about HC, it's about control. It has cost many Americans full time jobs, increased costs and HC cancellations. If it truly were about HC, they would have just addressed the 15% without INS. instead of screwing the entire country. Doctors are bailing out of this in droves, hope you enjoy your 3rd world HC.

    Merry Christmas

  • Report this Comment On December 25, 2013, at 4:26 PM, skipgainer61 wrote:

    For obamacare to be called the law of the land seems to be more like the lie of the land. This law has been bent and broken more times than our government has spied on all of us!

  • Report this Comment On December 25, 2013, at 6:19 PM, johnestromjr wrote:

    I'd love to see a video of Obama writing out HIS check to pay for ObamaCare. In my dreams :)

  • Report this Comment On December 25, 2013, at 6:33 PM, Incumbent wrote:

    ACA is DOA.

  • Report this Comment On December 25, 2013, at 7:49 PM, mypal00000 wrote:

    The ACA was supposedly created to cover 30 million uninsured people. Where are they all.? Why do we not have more than 1 million people that have signed up (if that is true)?

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