The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Friday extended the deadline for consumers to enroll on the federal exchanges from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23.

On a call with reporters, Obama administration spokesman Jeff Zients said that despite an even shorter turnaround time for billing and payment, officials believe consumers who sign up as late as Dec. 23 will still be able to have coverage in place on Jan. 1.

“We think this gives us the capacity to reach everyone we need to reach across this period of time,” said Zeints, an economic adviser who was brought in to manage Healthcare.gov when its roll-out encountered problems. He said the site is on track to double capacity by the end of November, allowing “at least 800,000 consumer visits per day.” The improvements are needed to handle anticipated spikes in December closer to the enrollment deadlines.

CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille confirmed that insurers were apprised of this extension, noting that the deadline for all consumer payments for coverage effective Jan. 1 is Dec. 31. That means insurers will have eight days, including the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day holidays, to prepare bills for any consumers who signed up on the last day of the newly extended deadline.

Real-world assessments don’t always match those of the Obama administration, however. For example, health insurance broker Joe Childers says that with the site capacity fully operational on Nov. 30, he still doesn’t understand CMS’s enrollment strategy. “If you have 1,000 employees in the private sector, open enrollment usually takes one month or two or three,” says the Little Rock-based owner of Watershed Benefits. “It’s impossible” to enroll thousands of people just a few weeks’ timeframe, he adds.

The decision affects the 33 federally run exchanges, while the 17 state-run exchanges will continue to set their own enrollment deadlines. At a health care event on Capitol Hill Friday the head of Washington, D.C.’s health insurance exchange, Mila Kofman, told reporters that, “we are pushing for Dec. 15" to have everyone fully paid for coverage starting Jan. 1.

Online Managing Editor Brian Kalish contributed to this story.

This story originally appeared on Employee Benefit Adviser.

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