Many may find applying for Obama health plan not easy

Applying for benefits under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul could be as daunting as doing your taxes. The government's draft application runs 15 pages for a three-person family. An outline of the online version has 21 steps, some with additional questions.
By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR Modified: March 12, 2013 at 10:26 pm •  Published: March 13, 2013
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— Applying for benefits under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul could be as daunting as doing your taxes.

The government's draft application runs 15 pages for a three-person family. An outline of the online version has 21 steps, some with additional questions.

Seven months before the Oct. 1 start of enrollment season for millions of uninsured Americans, the idea that getting health insurance could be as easy as shopping online at Amazon or Travelocity is looking like wishful thinking.

At least three major federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, will scrutinize your application. Checking your identity, income and citizenship is supposed to happen in real time, if you apply online.

That's just the first part of the process, which lets you know if you qualify for financial help. The government asks to see what you're making, because Obama's Affordable Care Act is means-tested, with lower-income people getting the most generous help to pay premiums.

Once you're finished with the money part, picking a health plan will require additional steps.

And it's a mandate, not a suggestion. The law says virtually all Americans must carry health insurance starting next year, although most will keep the coverage they now have through their jobs, Medicare or Medicaid.

Some are concerned that a lot of uninsured people will be overwhelmed and give up.

“This lengthy draft application will take a considerable amount of time to fill out and will be difficult for many people to be able to complete,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, an advocacy group supporting the health care law. “It does not get you to the selection of a plan. When you combine those two processes, it is enormously time-consuming and complex.”

Pollack is calling for the government to simplify the form and for an army of counselors to help uninsured people navigate the new system.

Drafts of the paper application and a 60-page description of the online version were posted online by the Health and Human Services Department, seeking feedback from industry and consumer groups. Those materials, and a recent HHS presentation to insurers, run counter to the vision of simplicity promoted by administration officials.

“We are not just signing up for a dating service here,” said Sam Karp, a vice president of the California HealthCare Foundation, who nonetheless gives the administration high marks for distilling it into a workable form. Karp was part of an independent group that designed a model application.