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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

White House: 7.1 Million Signed Up for Insurance

Obama calls it a major milestone under new health reform law; Republicans vow to continue to fight it

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Officials said the extension was being offered partly out of concern that the federal HealthCare.gov website could become overwhelmed as last-minute registrants scrambled to meet the deadline or face a penalty in the form of a tax.

The enrollment process got off to a nightmarish start back in October with the troubled unveiling of the HealthCare.gov website. Computer glitches and software problems made the website virtually unusable for long periods of time.

Critics of the Affordable Care Act pounced on the botched launch, which was deeply embarrassing to Obama. The law is considered Obama's signature domestic achievement.

HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states that do not operate their own registration websites, is now in a state of "transition" with new content to serve "consumers in meeting post-open enrollment needs," the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Tuesday.

The new homepage will have information for consumers on enrollment if they qualify for coverage outside of the just-concluded open enrollment period. These consumers include people experiencing a "major life change, such as marriage or job loss." There will also be information instructing consumers on how to use the new coverage, CMS said.

With some exceptions, people who are uninsured for most of 2014 may have to pay a penalty during next year's tax season under provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The maximum penalty for 2014 is $95 per adult and half of that for children (up to $285 for a family of three or more) -- or up to 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater.

According to the White House, one of the main objectives of the Affordable Care Act is to expand access to affordable health care options. The law led to the creation of the online marketplaces, or exchanges, where people in each state and the District of Columbia could compare health plans and sign up for coverage.

Now that the first enrollment deadline has passed, most Americans won't have another chance to sign up for coverage until the next open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15. Coverage purchased during that time won't take effect until 2015.

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