5:16 PM EDT, March 26, 2013
Back when I was in high school, I was sprung free for three months to work full-time at the county court house, where the boss gave me a thigh-high stack of forms people had to fill out. Cut this down to a few pages, he said. It's too much red tape.
I talked with prosecutors, the head of probation, the chief judge, the public defender, everyone. I made some progress but I also learned a lesson: If you're gonna mess with people's freedom, you need to collect a lot of information.
So it is with health care. Critics on the left as well as the right are panning the government's proposed application forms for people seeking health insurance under the state exchanges, starting Oct. 1.
Too much work to fill out! Too Long! Too complicated! They said it would be as easy as buying something on Amazon!
Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense. Yes, it looks long at first glance — 21 pages for the basic paper form — but a determined sixth grader could fill them out in about the time it takes to watch back-to-back Sponge Bob episodes on Nickelodeon.
Finishing the task would take slightly more effort than watching cartoons, and that's where the trouble starts. Sadly, we are a nation stooping to the lowest common denominator of everything. Apparently that holds true for the most important annual purchase that any family will make.
In fact, the 21-page form is as simple as it can reasonably be, and anyone who can't fill it out will get help. It's worth looking at, because Connecticut hopes to use the federal version to sign up more than 100,000 people. This whole flap about the complexity of the forms is nothing but political posturing by people who want Obamacare to go away, or to offer even more services to lazy Americans who now must exert a little bit of effort to deal with their own well-being.
The form is entirely written in plain language, with absolutely no need to calculate anything and then plug it in somewhere else to make further calculations, like we see in tax forms. None of that. Page one is a clear outline of what the form includes. Fully ten pages are devoted to information about as many as five of the applicant's family members who might need coverage as well.
One page asks if the applicant is a Native American; another asks whether he or she wants to designate an authorized representative to handle the insurance purchase; one full page is devoted to the applicant's signature; and one page gives instructions.
In short, the form requires the average household to fill out about eight pages of information, much of it about income and their current health coverage. This makes sense because the form must determine whether people are eligible for Medicaid or the private insurance subsidy.
It's only that long because it's so easy to follow: Is there any other reason why your income is less than what our electronic record show? Did you have your hours cut? Did you lose your job? And so forth.
Still, you'd think the unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that devised the form had reinvented the IRS, to hear all the barbs being said about it.
You'd expect this drivel from opponents of Obamacare, who, after all, want it to go away altogether. An editorial in the right-wing Washington Times is typical. These are the same people, by the way, who would howl if the form left out questions about where the applicant is now getting health insurance — not always an easy answer — and whether the applicant has any investment income.
But we're also seeing criticism from the left, in the form of Ron Pollack, head of the pro-Obamacare Families USA, who told the Associated Press, "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." He added, correctly, that the form does not include the actual selection of an insurance plan -- which itself will be a chore.
Pollack wants a simpler form, which is impossible, and he wants more help to be available, but there's no evidence we'll see a shortage of assistance when the signup period starts. In fact, the government has set aside tens of millions for that purpose, as much as $60 for each applicant in some states.
HHS also issued a 60-page instruction manual for the online version of the form, and some of the same critics are blasting that as well. This is maddeningly idiotic, because most of that manual is a step-by-step explanation of how the online form will operate. It's not work that applicants will have to do.
"The questionnaire contains all potential items that can be displayed on the online application," the manual states. "Items will be displayed depending on applicants' household and income situations, so applicants won't be required to complete this entire list of items. Most applicants will need to complete less than one-third of these items."
There are some trouble spots. One Louisiana senator doesn't like that the form asks applicants if they are registered to vote, and links to a voter registration form if they're not. He's right -- that's sending a confusing message and brings in politics, though it would be nice to get more of the nation's 50 million people who lack health coverage to also vote.
Another part of the form asks about race and ethnicity. It's marked "optional," and it clearly says the answers will not affect the applicant's coverage, but it ought to say "you do not have to fill out this section."
Those are fine points. We are talking about a national effort to require every resident, every citizen, to have health insurance, a complicated product with an even more complicated financing system.
A nation that pays for more than half of this coverage asking people to spend an hour or two to help assure their own health. That's not too much work. Grow up, America.
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