In a regular feature, the WHYY/NewsWorks Health and Science Desk is providing "The Short Answer" to questions about the Affordable Care Act.

Today's question:

A few weeks into the open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces, the online system in 36 states — — seems to be getting better but has lingering perception and technical problems.

Considering the rocky start, is the Obama Administration going to push back the deadline for enrollment?

The Short Answer:

Health officials say uninsured people will avoid the Shared Responsibility Payment (commonly referred to as a penalty) if they buy insurance by March 31st — even if their coverage has not kicked in. Initially, the deadline to get coverage as required by the "individual mandate" was mid-February.

At least one lawmaker is drafting a bill that would delay the health law penalty even longer. Separately, lots of Republicans, and a growing number of Democrats are asking: "How can you punish people for not buying something that's impossible to buy?"

What is the insurance mandate penalty?

The Internal Revenue Service is responsible for collecting the penalty — which the agency calls an "Individual Shared Responsibility Payment." The provision requires nearly all Americans to have minimum health coverage or pay a fee.

What's the status of

Obama Administration officials are fessing up that the online portal for the Affordable Care Act marketplaces had an unacceptably bumpy start. They also say that the health law is not just a website, but an insurance-system overhaul, and there are other ways to enroll in coverage — including by phone (1-800-318-2596) or by sending a paper application through the mail.

It's not clear how successful those alternative attempts have been or how many people have enrolled in each of the 36 states with a federally run website. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has promised a monthly status report starting in November.

While many people are focused on the missteps and technical problems. There's might be some truth to the saying: "There's no such thing as bad publicity."

According to a study from the Pew Research Center, as recently as September only about half of Americans knew there would be a shopping marketplace in their state, awareness has risen to nearly two-thirds today.

The 2010 health law goes into full effect Jan. 1, 2014. How will it affect you, your wallet and your health? Email your questions to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or tweet us @newsworksWHYY.