The Health and Human Services Department team implementing the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday unveiled a shortened and simplified application form to enter state health insurance exchanges established by the law. Republicans critics, meanwhile, continued efforts to repeal the law.
At a news conference, officials from HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rolled out sample forms for individuals with and without financial assistance and for families.
“Consumers will have a simple, easy-to-understand way to apply for health coverage later this year,” said CMS acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. “The application for individuals is now three pages, making it easier to use and significantly shorter than industry standards. This is another step complete as we get ready for a consumer-friendly marketplace that will be open for business later this year.”
CMS said the online application for individuals and the form for families both are “much shorter than industry standards for health insurance applications today.” Consumers can apply online, by phone or using paper when open enrollment begins Oct.1, 2013, and the state exchanges are to launch Jan. 1, 2014.
At a separate briefing Tuesday, President Obama said the application had come down from an original 21 pages after the focus group participants “sat around the table and said: Well, this is too long, especially, you know, in this age of the Internet, people aren't going to have the patience to sit there for hours on end. Let's streamline this thing.”
Seguing to the larger subject of implementation of the controversial law, which will add 30 million uninsured to the rolls, Obama praised the HHS team. “Despite all the hue and cry and….sky-is- falling predictions about this stuff, if you've already got health insurance, then the part of `Obamacare’ that affects you, it's pretty much already in place -- and that's about 85 percent of the country," he said. "But it's still a big undertaking. And what we're doing is making sure that every single day we are constantly trying to hit our marks so that it will be in place.”
A monthly tracking poll on the health care law released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed continued division and confusion about the law. Forty-two percent of Americans are unaware that the ACA is still the law of the land, and 49 percent say they lack sufficient information to understand its impact on their own family. Some 35 percent approve of the law while 40 percent disapprove, with 24 percent undecided. More Democrats than Republicans approve of it.
The new application form was welcomed by health care activist Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. Having criticized the earlier drafts of the forms, he called the changes very positive. “With tens of millions of uninsured people eligible for new help in securing affordable health coverage – either through substantial premium tax credits that will make private health insurance much more affordable or through the expansion of Medicaid – it is crucial that the enrollment process is as simple and consumer-friendly as possible," Pollack said. "The new, improved forms are a huge step in that direction.”
Republicans, meanwhile, kept up a barrage of attacks on the law as a cumbersome burden on businesses. The House Ways and Means Committee majority on Tuesday released a statement saying 71 percent of small businesses cite the health care law as a major obstacle to job creation.
The committee chairman, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., along with five colleagues, introduced a bill requiring the government to offer only plans created under the health care reform law or through a health insurance exchange to the president, vice president, members of Congress and federal employees.
“If the ObamaCare exchanges are good enough for the hardworking Americans and small businesses the law claims to help, then they should be good enough for the president, vice president, Congress and federal employees,” a Camp spokeswoman said.
Camp said his bill would exclude active-duty military and postal workers.