WASHINGTON - People who apply for health insurance through the U.S. government starting in October face a lot less red tape than anticipated.
The U.S. government cut the length of the 21-page application to three pages for individuals and seven for families in an effort to simplify the process for those looking to gain health coverage from the Affordable Care Act. The applications were posted online Tuesday as President Barack Obama said full implementation of the health-care overhaul is on schedule.
"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," Obama told reporters at the White House. "There'll still be, you know, glitches and bumps, and there'll be stories that can be written that says, 'oh, look, this thing's, you know, not working the way it's supposed to, and this happened and that happened.' And that's pretty much true of every government program that's ever been set up."
The administration is struggling to meet the Oct. 1 deadline for opening health insurance exchanges in all 50 states as some governors decline to cooperate and Republicans in Congress withhold funding. Early drafts of the applications for insurance drew criticism from consumer advocacy groups such as Families USA that said the length would discourage people from signing up and become another setback for the law.
"We were concerned that it was long and cumbersome," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, which supports the health law. "It's very important that the application and enrollment process is consumer-friendly so that as many people get enrolled as possible."
Obama said officials in his administration realized the application was too long soon after it was first proposed.
"People aren't going to have the patience to sit there for hours on end," he said. "Those kinds of refinements, we're going to continue to be working on."
The new forms ask people to provide basic personal information, including sources of income and dependents. An optional appendix lets people designate an agent such as an insurance broker to submit the application.
"The shorter, just-the-facts applications will help empower consumers to make the health-care decisions that are right for them, their families and their budget," Anne Filipic, the president of Enroll America, a nonprofit group trying to educate consumers on the health law, said in a statement.
The health law is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to expand insurance coverage to about 27 million Americans who don't get it through their jobs starting Jan. 1. Open enrollment for 2014 plans begins in October.
Democrats in Congress have raised concern that the state exchanges aren't on schedule to meet the October deadline. The federal government finds itself building more of the marketplaces than expected - as many as 34 - after most governors balked at doing the work themselves. Congress has so far refused administration requests for more money for the work.
Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee wrote much of the law, told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on April 17 that he feared a "train wreck" if the administration stumbled on implementation of the exchanges.
While opposition from Congress and Republican governors makes it harder to finish enacting the law, Obama said "we are pushing very hard to make sure that we're hitting all the deadlines and the benchmarks."