Try to see it from the White House’s perspective. They took an unholy beating in the media last week for dropping a new package of panicky “fixes” on the public with just days to go before the enrollment deadline. Faced with that hostility, how should a smart, adaptive PR team handle a new “fix” that pushes the deadline back again? Right: Simply … don’t announce it at all. There’s someone out there who’ll be sitting in front of his computer tomorrow, bummed that he spaced on today’s deadline, who’ll try signing up at Healthcare.gov on a lark in hopes of getting his coverage in place for January 1st anyway. And lo and behold, to his surprise, it’ll work! It’s a Christmas (Eve) miracle, courtesy of Sebelius Claus, even though enrollment is supposed to end at midnight tonight (and was initially supposed to end on December 15th). And no one in the mean ol’ media is the wiser. Until now.

The new deadline, by the way: Literally one minute before Christmas. If you work for an insurance company and you’re facing a 16-hour shift on Wednesday while your family’s home celebrating, just remember — this is what your boss gets for betting that Barack Obama could reinvent the industry, Hopenchange-style.

One individual familiar with the unannounced extension said that it is, in part, intended as a buffer in case the Web site has trouble if a last-minute surge of insurance-seekers proved more than the computer system could handle.

According to the two individuals, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity about a matter that is not public, the one-day extension is automatic, built into the computer software, and cannot be overridden by individual insurers if they object

On Monday morning, one insurance industry official, informed by The Washington Post about the quiet deadline extension, said that it “creates further challenges to get people enrolled and get their coverage start in January.” The official asked not to be identified because the change hasn’t been made public.

Remember that bit about insurers not being able to override HHS’s fix. Lefties grumble whenever conservatives call this a government takeover of health care, but with every new half-assed, nakedly political HHS-mandated “fix,” that term becomes more accurate. I wonder, in fact, if HHS even gave the industry a heads up before deciding that they had no choice but to process applications filed at 11:55 p.m. on Christmas Eve. It’s possible. I remember more than one news story in November claiming that insurers were blind-sided by Obama’s ass-covering “okay, let’s go ahead and un-cancel some canceled plans” announcement. But that’s life now that the industry works for the government. When the CEO tells you you’re working Christmas Eve, you’re working Christmas Eve.

One silver lining for the White House, though: Per this same WaPo piece, they’ve now had nearly 900,000 people sign up through Healthcare.gov alone. As of November 30th, that number was somewhere around 127,000 or so. Predictably, sign-ups really did skyrocket in December with the deadline bearing down and the website now stable enough to handle many of them, if not quite all. Then again, who knows what “sign-ups” means at this point? Are these people whose 834 information was successfully relayed to their new insurer and who’ve paid their first month’s premium? Or are these people who placed a plan in their virtual shopping cart but didn’t purchase it; or who did purchase a plan but had their 834 converted into gibberish; or who signed up successfully but forgot that nonpayment means no coverage on January 1st even if you did everything else right? I’ll leave you with this from Pro Publica’s Charles Ornstein, published just four short days ago. Good luck, America:

I’ve heard from a number of consumers this week saying that they had not yet received invoices from their insurance companies, and so they have been unable to pay their first month’s premiums. Along the same lines, at a forum for health journalists last week, an official from the Community Service Society of New York said that she was told that three prominent insurance companies were only beginning to send out invoices to their enrollees.