On Tuesday, Obama administration officials said that if consumers were online on March 31 and couldnt finish their insurance application before the governments midnight deadline they would be given extra time in April to complete the process.
However, Wednesday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would not say if they had a way to verify when individuals initiated the insurance application process on the federal insurance exchange other than the applicants own word.
CMS, which is overseeing the program, said that a box is being added to the enrollment process that consumers can click to indicate they started the sign-up process before the March 31 deadline.
Yet, a CMS spokeswoman on a media call was repeatedly asked how that information would be verified. She replied that people are not likely to lie on a government application. And she would not say what, if any, other means of verification might be put in place.
The agency also declined to say how long in April the extension to complete applications might last.
Under the Affordable Care Act, individuals must have insurance coverage by the end of March or face a penalty of as much as 1% of their income.
On the same call, the CMS said it's seeing a surge in consumers coming to the exchange site as the deadline approaches. There were 1.2 million visitors to the site Tuesday and the call center received 500,000 calls on Monday and Tuesday this week. This mirrors numbers from the end of December when there was a similar deadline to sign up for coverage beginning Jan. 1.
Kurt DelBene, senior adviser to the secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, said that Healthcare.gov can handle 100,000 users concurrently and a queuing system has been built should demand exceed that. The system will allow consumers to receive an e-mail when the demand is reduced or join a virtual waiting room.
The call center has been fully staffed with the maximum 14,000 representatives and a queue system also in place.
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