ObamaCare Penalty Delayed —but Not Due to Website WH says it's just eliminating confusion By Matt Cantor, Newser User Posted Oct 23, 2013 10:15 PM CDT Updated Oct 24, 2013 7:00 AM CDT 167 comments Comments Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) (Newser) – Good news for procrastinators: Americans will now have an extra month and a half to get health insurance before facing a penalty under ObamaCare, meaning they won't face a fine if they sign up for a plan by March 31. The six-week delay (a change of tune for the White House) isn't because of website difficulties, but because people weren't certain when the penalty came into effect, officials tell the Washington Post. It hadn't been clear whether Americans simply had to sign up for a plan before the penalty took effect, or whether their coverage itself had to begin by that date, the Post and MarketWatch explain. Because of the way health insurance is processed, Americans would have needed to apply by Feb. 15 for coverage to kick in March 31; now, people won't be penalized as long as they've signed up by March 31, in which case their coverage would start May 1. Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is preparing for hearings on website issues beginning today. Four contractors will testify; Kathleen Sebelius will do the same next Wednesday. CGI Federal handled the lion's share of the project, and has already acknowledged some responsibility for the problems in a letter to lawmakers—but it asserted that the health department agency Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was ultimately responsible for the site's "end-to-end performance"; it also points the finger at contractor Quality Software Services for registration problems that have now been fixed. QSS says it's not the only one to blame. An insurance industry source tells CNN that "top health insurers" knew full well about the website's flaws before it launched.