Among the many big headaches standing in the way of a smooth rollout of health reform and mandatory medical coverage for everyone, the application form created by the federal government was not a problem. Yet when it came out earlier this year, critics said the paper version of the application, at 21 pages, was too long and complicated.
It was perfectly clear and would have given applicants the instructions they needed and the health exchanges in Connecticut and other states the information they needed, which I said in a blog post when it came out. But now the government has caved in to the critics and produced a shorter form — said to be three pages for individuals. President Obama cited the change Tuesday as a way his government is responding to citizens.
It’s shorter, but that’s partly just because of how the pages are counted. The new forms don’t have page numbers on the instructions, so that magically zaps a couple of pages right off. Also, the new family form has room for just two people including the applicant. That means anyone with a household of three or more will have to copy pages, making sure to get the right ones, and attach them — leaving lots of room for problems.
The new application is also more confusing in lots of small ways that will add up. For example, the old form says clearly, “We need to know about any health insurance you could get through a job,” and it walks the applicant through simple questions that bring out a clear answer. The new form says, “Is anyone listed on this application offered health coverage from a job?” Well, to paraphrase a great president, it depends on what “offered” means.
The new form could also make it harder for the health exchanges to get an overall picture of the people seeking coverage, mostly with federal subsidies.
American civilization will not hinge on how the applications for subsidized health coverage turn out. Most people should do the form online and everyone who needs help will get it. The point here is that when it comes to making government more efficient, something that looks simpler might not be.
In this case the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services caved in to a knee-jerk response by critics who think people who need health insurance cannot, and should not, take an hour to make sure they get it.