Affordable Care Act application just got a whole lot simpler

April 30, 2013

When the Obama administration published a first draft of the form that Americans will use to apply for health coverage under the nation's new Affordable Care Act, it didn't go well.

The application got the most attention for being 21 pages. It was clunky — for example, applicants had to provide their Social Security number twice on the same page.

That intimidating stack of paper was quickly pitched. On Tuesday, the Health and Human Services Department rolled out the final version of the basic application, which had been cut to five pages and is available below.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/files/2013/04/Health-Application.pdf

The new version is shorter because it's simpler. For example, it does not ask for information about family members, as the original did. It just asks about the applicant (there is a longer family application available for those who need it). In the old version, a full page was dedicated to determining if the individual was an Alaska Native. That page did not survive the final cut.

The Obama administration has essentially scaled back a draft application that could cover all applicants to one that covers the most common, basic cases of those who apply for insurance assistance. Different forms will be available for the more complex cases.

The shortened form has already gotten praise from Ron Pollack, the president of the health-care advocacy group Families USA, who had criticized the first version.

"The revised Affordable Care Act application forms deserve applause because they will streamline the enrollment process and make it consumer-friendly," Pollack said in a statement. "These streamlined and shortened forms significantly improve the likelihood that large numbers of people will truly get enrolled and gain access to affordable health coverage."

How much will this paper application matter in ensuring that people will properly enroll in a health-care plan? That is difficult to say. Many Americans who are gaining insurance coverage under the health-care law will never see this form. Millions will probably apply online, where the same information will be collected in a different format. And some will get assistance in filling it out from consumer navigators who are tasked with helping applicants (many of whom will be buying insurance coverage for the first time) figure out which option works best for them.

Still, health reform supporters say this streamlined form will help get more people to sign up for coverage, rather than give up while trying to figure out 21 pages of bureaucratic questions.

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Sarah Kliff | April 30, 2013