Health website woes force extension for sickest

Associated Press
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Demonstrators rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, as the court was hearing arguments in President Barack Obama's health overhaul which, if successful, could halt health care premium subsidies in all the states where the federal government runs the insurance marketplaces, March 4, 2015. A Supreme Court ruling expected in a few weeks could wipe out health insurance for millions of people covered by President Barack Obama’s health care law. But Republicans _ not White House officials _ have been the ones talking about damage control. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Technology problems with President Barack Obama's health care website are forcing the administration to extend a federal insurance plan for some of the sickest patients by a month.

The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan was supposed to disappear Jan. 1, because starting next year insurers will no longer be able to turn away patients with health issues. The administration said Thursday the extension is meant to smooth the transition to new coverage, easing anxiety for tens of thousands of patients with serious illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.

The announcement may well be the harbinger of other extensions and delays to come. A Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for people who want coverage by the first of the year is fast approaching, and it's unclear if a recently revamped website will be able to handle the crush of applications.

Website problems that have kept uninsured people from signing up for new coverage under Obama's law also created obstacles for patients in the federal high-risk insurance plan and similar programs run by states.

Another, much bigger group, is also running out of time. More than 4 million people have gotten cancellations of existing individual policies that did not measure up to the requirements of the new federal law. It's unclear how many have been helped by Obama's announcement allowing insurers to extend those plans for another year.

The federal pre-existing conditions plan was designed a temporary lifeline to get uninsured patients with serious conditions through to 2014. But Congress and the president capped funding at $5 billion, and the program ran into financial problems that prompted a freeze on enrollment and cost shifts to patients.

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