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What to Know About the March 31 Health Insurance Deadline
Monday, March 03, 2014

As the March 31 enrollment deadline approaches to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, many consumers may be thinking, "another month, another Obamacare deadline." But this date will be a defining one for consumers without affordable health insurance, as well as for the law's critics and advocates.

The March deadline will mark the end of the open enrollment period for consumers looking to purchase health insurance plans on the federal health insurance marketplace. After March 31, Americans without health care plans will have to pay the Obamacare penalty. For the Obama administration, the enrollment numbers on that date will help to gauge the early impact of the president's signature health care law.

Things are looking up since October

Some of the biggest criticism the Obama administration has faced since the law took effect has been centered on the botched rollout of healthcare.gov. The online marketplace has been plagued with technical issues since it launched on Oct. 1, prompting outcry from both consumers and lawmakers. Users complained of outages, slow response times, error messages and system crashes.

Consumers can expect a relatively smooth experience on the site now, though the administration has admitted that issues still persist. In December, the White House completed a series of fixes that allows the site to handle up to 50,000 users at once, and the system was working 90 percent of the time, according to a Health and Human Services report.

Furthermore, about 4 million Americans have enrolled in health insurance plans through the federal and state exchanges since Oct. 1, the administration announced last week. This is a big jump from the approximately 106,000 Americans who enrolled in plans during the first month the online marketplace was open, signaling a turnaround from the earlier technical challenges with healthcare.gov and many of the state marketplace sites.

Still, the recent enrollment figures don't come close to the 7 million Americans the White House originally projected would sign up for health care before the March 31 deadline. The Congressional Budget Office recently modified the estimation to 6 million, citing the glitches in the online marketplace.

However, health care experts say there will likely be an increase in enrollment as the deadline nears, and last-minute shoppers search for plans.

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"To me, a lawyer is basically the person that knows the rules of the country. We're all throwing the dice, playing the game, moving our pieces around the board, but if there is a problem the lawyer is the only person who has read the inside of the top of the box. "
-Jerry Seinfeld

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