Washington (CNN) - The Obama administration is moving to clear up confusion over when the public needs to sign up for health care to avoid a penalty. The March 31 open enrollment deadline is not changing, according to White House officials.
The administration says as long as consumers buy health insurance by March 31, they will avoid the penalty.
What had been at issue were different interpretations of the law known as Obamacare. Some believed that in order to avoid a penalty, one needed to buy insurance by February 15 because a plan bought after that date would not begin until April 1, one day after the March 31 deadline.
According to the White House, that March 31 deadline comes from language in the Affordable Care Act that says if one has access to affordable coverage but chooses to be uninsured for three consecutive months in a calendar year, one would face a penalty. The administration says in the insurance market, when consumers sign up before the 15th of a given month, their coverage starts on the first day of the next month: Sign up by February 15 to get coverage starting March 1; sign up after that date (but before March 15), and you won't be covered until April 1 - one day over that three-month deadline.
The administration now says, however, that that is not the case and that they will issue new guidelines to make that clear.
"The individual mandate timing has not changed. The deadline for signing up for insurance is March 31. It was true this morning. It is true tonight," said Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department.
'If you sign up for insurance by the end of March, you will not face a penalty," said another HHS official. "As we have said before, the guidance that the administration will issue soon will reinforce this."
Officials say the new guidelines they will issue are not connected to the problems that have plagued HealthCare.gov and prevented many people from enrolling.
They point to White House spokesman Jay Carney, who has said twice at daily briefings that the dates would have to be aligned. Another administration official said this has always been called "the Valentine's Day problem" in previous discussions, saying this is "something we would do under any circumstance."
Still, the confusion shows how much of the law and its provisions remain unknown, forcing clarifications such as this.
–CNN's Gloria Borger, Brianna Keilar, Jim Acosta , Adam Aigner-Treworgy, Kevin Bohn, Becky Brittain, Zach Wolf, Miriam Falco, and Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.