New forms hope to make it easier to sign up for health insurance
The application form to apply for Obama's Health Care plan went from 21 pages to 3.
Forms for health care reform are getting reformed. (Try saying that three times fast.)
Under the health care reform law, Americans without health insurance will soon be able to buy coverage through a program called a health insurance marketplace, also known as an “exchange.” The federal government will begin accepting applications in October.
Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) posted those applications online. It called them “consumer-friendly” and stressed their relative simplicity.
“They’re pretty short,” says J.B. Silvers, who teaches health care finance at the Case Weatherhead School of Management. “Less than an awful lot of individual forms that people fill out these days.”
One of the applications -- for individuals whose employers don’t offer health coverage -- is just three pages long. A similar form, for families, is only seven pages.
It took me four minutes to fill out that form for families. It probably would have taken even less time if I didn’t have to dig up my most recent tax return. That tax return was the only other piece of paper I needed. I was able to fill out the rest from memory.
Draft versions of these forms were much longer and more complex, and some policy analysts worried they’d stay that way.
When it was first released in January, the form for families was 21 pages long, and it was written in confusing bureaucratic language. For example, “Does PERSON 1 plan to file a federal income tax return next year?” instead of “Do you plan to file a federal income tax return next year?”
An important three pieces of paper
At a news conference today, President Barack Obama said the new, shorter forms exemplify “the kind of refinements we’re going to continue to be working on” as the government continues to implement provisions of the healthcare reform law.
Timothy McBride, a health economist at Washington University in St. Louis, says the current applications are easier to follow.
“I was very pleased to see these revised forms, because I had seen some of the draft forms they were considering, and I was getting pretty nervous."
In a statement, the CMS said, “the paper application was simplified and tailored to meet personal situations based on important feedback from consumer groups.” Over these last few months, the agency encouraged the public to submit suggestions, comments and complaints.
It seems a little strange to put so much weight into a few blank lines, but McBride says the forms are important for enrollment.
When a form is too complicated, “it turns people off or it turns people away,” McBride says. “Health insurance is quite complicated even for those of us who know a lot about it.”
Paving the way for other changes?
From a design perspective, these forms look similar to prototypes the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has released, including a simplified credit card agreement.
David B. Kendall, a senior fellow for health and fiscal policy at Third Way, a Washington think tank, says these new applications for health coverage could encourage other agencies to reexamine their own forms.
“I think this particular application will be more influential in the way we do other things in government services,” Kendal says, suggesting applications for Medicaid and food stamps could be redesigned.