The pre-Christmas race to buy health insurance is another consequence of the troubled launch of the Affordable Care Act's HealthCare.gov website and website difficulties in a number of state-run health insurance exchanges. Since the October launch of the health exchanges, sign-up and premium-payment deadlines have been extended to give people more time to enroll for coverage, but the new cut-offs come amid the holiday rush.
Many people aren't aware of the various deadlines under the law, sometimes called Obamacare. What's more, the deadlines may vary by state and by health insurer, health insurance agents and brokers said.
"There is a lot of confusion," said Anna Causey, vice president of Combined Insurance Services Inc., a Pensacola, Fla.-based benefits broker.
Some people mistakenly believe they have until Dec. 31 to enroll in a plan that takes effect on Jan. 1, Causey said. Others don't realize they could pay a federal tax penalty if they don't have health insurance in place by March 31, she said.
Under the Affordable Care Act, most adults will pay a $95 penalty -- or 1 percent of income -- in 2014 if they don't have health insurance coverage. The penalty rises to $695 -- or 2 percent of income -- by 2016.
To avoid the penalty, people must enroll in a plan by Feb. 15 or qualify for an exemption from the penalty, Causey said.
If you're in the market for health insurance, here are some key dates to keep in mind:
What's the latest I can enroll in coverage for Jan. 1?
Consumers shopping on HealthCare.gov, the federal portal serving individuals in 36 states, originally had until 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday, Dec. 23, to enroll if they want coverage to take effect on the first day of the new year. That was extended by 24 hours and now is extended further for those people who had problems signing up at HealthCare.gov.