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Is WH on verge of extending Obamacare open enrollment period?

Jay Carney
Jay Carney
Getty Images

And … time! Pencils down. Unless you’ve already begun the process of enrolling in Obamacare, in which case pencils back up.

In Friday’s White House press briefing, Jay Carney answered a question about the finality of the March 31 enrollment deadline by intimating there may be wiggle room for those already in the system:

Well, March 31st was the deadline, as was the case for the December deadline, and we’re going to want to make sure that people who are already in line can finish their enrollment. But for how that process works I would point you to what happened in December and how that played out. [A video of Carney's remarks is here.]

Carney went on to refer the questioner, CNN’s Jim Acosta, to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Department of Health and Human Services for an explanation of how this extension will go down, adding:

[W]e want to make sure as we did in December on that deadline that folks who have begun the process are able to complete it. We certainly expect, naysayers notwithstanding, there’s going to be continued interest right up to the deadline and that interest will probably increase as we approach the deadline. [Emphasis added]

Needless to say, if the “naysayers” were wrong and there had been abiding “interest” in signing up all along, then there wouldn’t be a need to contemplate an extension. But as things currently stand, the White House knows it is going to fall short of its projected 7 million enrollees by March 31, and questions remain about how many of those who have signed up have paid in, making it official.

But to repeat the title question of this post, is the administration contemplating keeping enrollment open — and not just those who have initiated the process but for all comers? And if it does, what are the political ramifications?

Suppose the enrollment period is extended for another three months (a figure suggested by Obamacare enthusiast Brent Budowsky of The Hill) and the number of prospective enrollees dwindles. As any consumer can tell you, a store with few customers is less likely to attract window-shoppers than one that is doing a brisk business. In the next several months, moreover, back-end data HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has claimed ignorance on — specifically, the number of enrollees who have closed the deal by paying the first month’s premium — is going to become public. If as many as 20% have not paid up, as some analysts are predicting, the deterrent effect is going to be even greater.

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