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HHS Now Says You Can Sign Up for Health Care After Obamacare Deadline

8:12 AM, Mar 3, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
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The March 31, 2014 deadline for Obamacare open enrollment has been widely publicized since Healthcare.gov launched in October 2013, but, until recently, information about purchasing coverage outside of the open enrollment period was ambiguous at best.  For most of February, a page on the federal Marketplace website entitled "How can I get coverage outside of open enrollment?" answered the question as follows: "Outside open enrollment, you can enroll in a private insurance plan only if you have certain life events that give you a special enrollment period."  A screenshot of the archived page appears here, emphasis added:

The statement did not specify where coverage could be purchased outside of the open enrollment period. An email inquiry to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Wednesday, February 26, seeking clarification elicited the following response on Thursday, February 27, from the agency's press office (emphasis added):

Marketplace plans will not be available until the following enrollment period, unless the person has a qualifying life event. For more information, visit: https://www.healthcare.gov/how-can-i-get-coverage-outside-of-open-enrollment/.  

Some insurers off the Marketplace may choose to allow individuals to enroll in a plan at any time provided they comply with new regulations such as not discriminating based a pre-existing condition or current health status. The insurer must also make sure that the plan is available for anyone who may want to purchase it.

Following the email inquiry, the informational page at Healthcare.gov was updated on February 27, now reading (emphasis added): "Outside open enrollment, you can enroll in Marketplace insurance only if you have certain life events that give you a special enrollment period."  Here is a screenshot of the page as it presently appears:

The original version of the page (first cached on 11/13/13) was different than either of the two versions above:

The page stayed this way until the week of February 5, 2014, when the second version that was on the site for most of February appeared.

The precise application of the open enrollment period inside and outside of the Marketplace has been a source of confusion even to experts in the field.  Kaiser Health News is part of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which bills itself as "a leader in health policy analysis, health journalism and communication."  The White House has cited Kaiser's work dozens of times in support of Obamacare. But on November 18, 2013, Kaiser Health News answered readers' questions about the open enrollment period this way (emphasis added):

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