Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, center, accompanied by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, left, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, speaks during a news conference at the HHS in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2013, to discuss President Barack Obama's fiscal 2014 for the Health Department. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
WASHINGTON (AP) — The first draft was as mind-numbing and complex as tax forms. Now the Obama administration is unveiling a simplified application for health insurance benefits under the federal health care overhaul.
Details to be released Tuesday include a three-page short form that single people can fill out, administration officials said. Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner, also overseeing the rollout of the health care law, called it "significantly shorter than industry standards."
The earlier draft of the application was widely panned, and administration allies feared uninsured people would give up in frustration. Administration officials say they have trimmed the paperwork burden back considerably.
One activist briefed on the changes said Monday the administration has made big improvements. Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said the new application will be easier to navigate and much less intimidating.
Although the new forms may be shorter, it's unclear whether the administration can get rid of all the complexity. That's because applicants will have to provide detailed snapshots of their incomes to see whether they qualify for government assistance. Individuals will have to gather tax returns, pay stubs and other financial records before filling out the application.
Nearly 30 million uninsured Americans are eventually expected to get coverage through President Barack Obama's health care law. Enrollment starts Oct. 1 for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1. Middle-class people who don't get coverage through their jobs will be able to purchase private insurance, in most cases with the help of tax credits to make premiums more affordable. Low-income uninsured people will be steered to government programs like Medicaid.
Administration officials expect most consumers to apply online through new health insurance marketplaces that will be operating in each state. A single application form will serve to route consumers to either private plans or the Medicaid program. Identification, citizenship and immigration status, as well as income details, are supposed to be verified in close to real time through a federal "data hub" that will involve pinging Social Security, Homeland Security and the Internal Revenue Service.
Currently, applying for health insurance individually entails filling out a lengthy questionnaire about your health. Under Obama's overhaul, insurers will no longer be able to turn away the sick, or charge them more. The health care questions will disappear, but they'll be replaced by questions about your income. Consumers who underestimate their incomes could be in for an unwelcome surprise later on in the form of smaller tax refunds.
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