EXCLUSIVE: Hill Dems Demand Answers From HHS On O’Care Enrollment Cutoff

Carolyn Kaster/AP

The first full Obamacare open enrollment period of the Trump administration ends Friday, and experts expect signups on healthcare.gov to surge right before the deadline. Should that surge overwhelm the federal website, it’s an open question whether the Department of Health and Human Services will extend the deadline, offering a grace period for people who tried to sign up and were unable to do so.

On Wednesday afternoon, the top Democrats on the House and Senate committees that deal with health care sent a letter to HHS demanding to know what the agency plans to do for those stuck “in line” trying to sign up for health insurance when the clock strikes midnight on Friday.

“It is uncertain if potential enrollees waiting in line at midnight on December 15 to either enroll or to complete a previously started application will in fact be left with no opportunity to be insured in 2018,” the lawmakers wrote. “We therefore call on you to offer a grace period this year, ensuring that all potential enrollees waiting to register for coverage at midnight on December 15 will be processed.”

The letter is signed by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Richard Neal (D-MA).

A current staffer at HHS who also served at the agency in the Obama administration, but who is not authorized to speak on the record about the agency’s deliberations, told TPM that the department’s silence so far on this question is not necessarily a sign of ill intent.

“We never have made an extension decision in advance, and have always based the decision on having had technical issues,” the staffer said. “Our call center will almost certainly need to take names and do some in-line support and that will absolutely occur.”

Though the Trump administration has taken several steps this year to weaken and undermine the Affordable Care Act, the open enrollment period starting on November 1 has gone fairly smoothly, with few technical hangups and a brisk pace of signups.

Yet as advocacy groups work overtime in the final days to remind the public of Friday’s deadline—which is six weeks earlier than in previous years—they fear a wave of procrastinators could crash the website and leave potentially millions without access to health insurance next year.

Read Democrats’ full letter below: