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Millions could get extra time for health care sign-ups

WASHINGTON — Millions of Americans could get extra time to enroll for taxpayer-subsidized coverage this year under President Barack Obama's health care law. That would let the administration boost sign-ups and aid Democrats under attack over the program's troubles.

The Health and Human Services Department Wednesday posted two documents that outline "special enrollment periods" for broad groups of people trying to access the new online health insurance markets.

Those who've started an application, but weren't able to finish before the March 31 open enrollment deadline, would get a limited amount of time to sign up for coverage that would take effect May 1.

Additionally, people with 10 general categories of "special" circumstances would also get extra time to apply — up to 60 days. Categories include natural disasters, system errors related to immigration status, computer error messages due to technical difficulties, family situations involving domestic abuse, and other sorts of problems.

"We won't close the door on those who tried to get covered and were not able to do so through no fault of their own," Julie Bataille, communications director for the health care rollout, told reporters.

She deflected repeated questions on whether there is a hard deadline beyond which the administration won't take applications.

Special enrollment periods are allowed under the health law, and standard for workplace insurance. But they are mainly used to accommodate changes in life circumstances, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child or job loss.

The latest tweaks to health overhaul rules drew immediate scorn from Republicans committed to repealing "Obamacare."

"The administration has now handed out so many waivers, special favors and exemptions to help Democrats out politically ... it's basically become the legal equivalent of Swiss cheese," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

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