Obama administration simplifies health care application form

WASHINGTON — 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.

The biggest change: a five-page short form that single people can fill out. That form includes a cover page with instructions and another page if you want to designate someone to help you through the process. But the abridged application form for families starts at 12 pages, and grows as you add children.

Most people are expected to take another option, applying online. The ease or difficulty of applying for benefits takes on added importance because Americans remain confused about what the health care law will mean for them.

At his news conference Tuesday, President Barack Obama hailed the simplified forms as an example of how his team listened to criticism from consumer groups and made a fix.

The applications will start becoming familiar to consumers less than six months from now, on Oct. 1, when new insurance markets open for enrollment in every state. Most people already signed up in their employer’s plan don’t need to bother with the forms.

Filling out the application is 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. Consumers who aren’t applying for financial help still have to fill out a five-page form.

Once you’re finished with the money part, actually picking a health plan will require additional steps, plus a basic understanding of insurance jargon.

Benefits begin Jan. 1, and nearly 30 million uninsured Americans are eventually expected to get coverage. While the first drafts of the applications were widely panned, the new forms were seen as an improvement. Still, consumers must provide a snapshot of their finances. That potentially includes multiple sources of income, from alimony to tips to regular paychecks.

— Ricardo Alonso-Aaldivar, The Associated Press