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By Noam N. Levey, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to allow consumers to complete enrollment for health insurance under Obamacare after next week’s deadline as long as they declare that they started the process before the end of the month.

Officials said they were making the move now in anticipation of a last-minute rush of consumers seeking health insurance ahead of the March 31 deadline. On Monday, more than 1.1 million people visited HealthCare.gov, the second-largest traffic day on the site, the White House said.

Consumer advocates have been urging the administration to provide additional time to prevent people being shut out of coverage because of last-minute problems. But officials repeatedly had said they would not waive the March 31 deadline. They continued to say Tuesday that the new extension for some consumers did not contradict that.

“Open enrollment ends March 31. We are experiencing a surge in demand and are making sure that we will be ready to help consumers who may be in line by the deadline to complete enrollment — either online or over the phone,” Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters said.

Republicans quickly criticized the decision. “Another day, another Obamacare delay,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

How much extra time consumers will get remained uncertain Tuesday.

The move to allow at least some consumers more time is one that White House officials have been hinting at since last week. The step parallels moves it made at the end of December, when a crush of people trying to sign up created a bottleneck on the HealthCare.gov website.

“As was the case for the December deadline, we’re going to want to make sure that people who are already in line can finish their enrollment,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday.

Enrollment has been picking up again in March, according to administration officials.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Americans who do not have health insurance for more than three months this year could be subject to a tax penalty for 2014.

The extension would allow Americans who do not meet the March 31 deadline to simply indicate that they had been trying but were unable to complete the process. The administration does not plan to independently verify such claims.

Administration officials said they had established systems to allow individuals with special circumstances and complex cases to receive help completing the enrollment process outside of open enrollment.

AFP Photo/Karen Bleier

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