With less than three weeks before a looming deadline for enrolling in mandatory health coverage, the federal government has unveiled several rule changes affecting Obamacare insurers and their customers.
The changes, revealed in a flurry of announcements in recent days, will broaden the size of provider networks in some health plans next year, give insurers financial relief, affirm that certain groups will receive health benefits that were being questioned and extends temporary coverage to some people with pre-existing conditions.
Amid those announcements, The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday that officials are preparing to effectively grant an extension of the March 31 deadline for Obamacare enrollment to last-minute shoppers who run into technical problems on government exchanges, and who can document those problems.
Federal officials Monday said only, "Open enrollment ends March 31," when CNBC.com asked about the Journal report.
But if officials do end up extending the deadline, it would not be surprising. In December, when dealing with large numbers of people trying to sign up for health coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the government several times effectively extended the enrollment deadline, and leaned on insurers to get them to honor sign-ups that occurred after the deadline.
(Read more: All over the map: States' 'paid' Obamacare rates)
Under the Affordable Care Act, nearly every American must have some form of health insurance by March 31 or face a tax penalty next year.
One major change announced by the government will effectively compel insurers selling plans on the Obamacare exchanges for 2015 to increase the minimum number of so-called essential community providers in the plans' networks. Such providers serve lower-income and other "medically under-served" populations, and include federally qualified health centers, children's hospitals, HIV and STD clinics, and family planning clinics.