Dec. 23—Applicants to healthcare.gov will have 24 hours more to sign-up, the Obama administration revealed on the day of the previous deadline.

Applicants to the federal healthcare marketplace, which was created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to offer private individual market insurance plans, will have until midnight on Christmas Eve to enroll in coverage and have it active on Jan. 1. The previous deadline was the end of the day Dec. 23.

The latest extension, which followed a delay in a previous Dec. 15 enrollment deadline for Jan. 1 coverage, was discovered by The Washington Post and confirmed by an official in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

"Anticipating high demand, which we indeed saw starting early this morning, and the fact that consumers may be enrolling from multiple time zones, we have taken steps to make sure that those who tried to enroll today but had delays due to high traffic have a fail-safe," Julie Bataille, director of CMS's Office of Communications, said in an emailed statement.

However, CMS officials stressed that technically the additional time only applies for applicants who have started the sign-up process and have been unable to complete it by the end of Dec. 23.

Sign up deadlines for Jan. 1 coverage also have been extended by some of the 16 states that are operating their own marketplaces.

Some insurers also have agreed to activate enrollments on Jan. 1, even if payments are not received until Jan 10. Typically, the first premium is due before coverage is activated.

The final enrollment deadline for the marketplaces is March 31, 2014. Applicants who sign up for qualifying coverage by the end of open enrollment will not owe tax penalties under the ACA's individual mandate.

The latest change followed last week's one-year delay in the individual mandate for people whose individual market insurance policies were cancelled due to new requirements of the law.

The growing numbers of delays aim to offset massive technical failings in the federal and some state marketplace enrollment websites that have been mitigated in recent weeks.

Bataille said that by 2 p.m. EST on Mon., Dec. 23, healthcare.gov had about 850,000 visits, or about five times more than the same timeframe on the previous Monday.

Although the earlier problems had kept most applicants from successfully enrolling, the Obama administration has reported accelerating enrollments in recent weeks. For instance, President Barack Obama said on Dec. 20 that 500,000 applicants had enrolled in coverage through the federal website up to that point in December.

Publication Date: Monday, December 23, 2013