California's health insurance exchange extended its deadline for consumers wanting Obamacare coverage in effect by Jan. 1.
Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, said people who start the application process or make some "good faith effort" by Monday will have until Dec. 21 to finish signing up. Monday at midnight had previously been the hard deadline.
"We are providing this window to get people across the finish line," Lee said at an exchange board meeting Monday. "We know many of the people applying have never had insurance before, and these are individuals who need to sit down and talk with someone."
Lee said many insurance agents and enrollment counselors were already fully booked with applicants Monday. He said the deadline extension will allow people to make appointments through Dec. 21.
The previous deadline applied to people signing up for health insurance for the first time and the more than 1 million Californians with existing policies who may want to switch health plans in Covered California.
This isn't the final chance to sign up. Open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act continues through Feb. 15.
Also Monday, Covered California said about 91,600 people had newly enrolled in private health plans through Dec. 11.
The state marketplace has struggled at times with high volume days. To avoid long waits on the phone, state officials have directed people to find enrollment counselors and certified insurance agents in their area at www.coveredca.com.
For most consumers, existing policies will be automatically renewed if they do nothing. However, exchange officials are urging people to shop around because their 2015 premiums may be going up and their network of doctors and hospitals might be changing.
Consumer advocates and insurance agents also advise people to update their household income with the exchange to ensure the amount of federal premium subsidies they may receive is accurate.
The exchange said it won't release details on renewals and how many people switched health plans until next month.
Covered California wants to have 1.7 million people enrolled in health plans by Feb. 15.