If you’re still confused by what’s happening with Obamacare, no one will blame you. Almost no one can blame you since they’re probably in the dark too. (A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 58 percent of the uninsured who were surveyed said they didn’t have enough information about the Affordable Care Act to know how it would affect them.) So let’s just cut to the chase and say a few things, for the record: First, Obamacare—meaning the implementation of the Affordable Care Act—is happening. It wasn’t overruled or overturned and your state can’t just opt out of it. You can’t, either, most likely. Nearly every single American will need to carry some sort of coverage.
Second, the major changes you need to know about are happening in January 2014. That seems like a long time from now, but it’s really not. If you need to get coverage under Obamacare, you’ll need to apply for it, and this week the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—the federal agency that’s overseeing how all nearly 49 million of the uninsured apply—issued a newly revised application form to get health insurance coverage.
Check out the new application form here (a PDF of the full form for an individual will open up).
This form is how you’ll apply to get health coverage under Obamacare through what’s called an “insurance exchange” or an “insurance marketplace.” You’ll be hearing a lot more about these in the next month or two.
The new-and-improved application form is a follow-up on drafts released by the HHS a few months ago, which were roundly criticized by consumer advocates for being too long and complicated to be easily completed by the millions of people who will sign up for health insurance beginning in the fall. Advocacy groups responded enthusiastically when HHS posted the new forms this week.
Most states are now in the process of hiring “navigators” to help individuals and families sign up for insurance when open enrollment begins on October 1—think of these as a sort of coach or counselor to make the sign-up process much faster and simpler. So having the revised forms in hand now gives these navigators, and many others, a chance to bone up well ahead of crunch time. In other words, if you're still unclear on what to do, these folks will make sure you get signed up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act in time.
“The revised Affordable Care Act application forms deserve applause because they will streamline the enrollment process and make it consumer-friendly,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of advocacy group FamiliesUSA in a statement. Pollack added that “these streamlined and shortened forms significantly improve the likelihood that large numbers of people will get enrolled and gain access to affordable health coverage.”
According to Richard Olague, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which will administer much of implementation of the new health insurance rules, the newly released forms are for the insurance marketplaces that will be run by the federal government. (Some states are ceding to the federal government to run their exchanges.) State-based marketplaces can use this application or apply to modify it, so depending on where you live, the application could look somewhat different. Guidance for states on alternative applications will be released soon, says Olague. Sign-up with the new forms begins October 1, 2013 and coverage begins January 1, 2014.
While there are four options for how you can get health insurance under Obamacare—online, by phone, in person, or by mail—submitting your application by mail is the least efficient (the online version steers you through the application so you don’t have to answer a bunch of questions that don’t apply to you).
Other key changes in the new forms include easier-to-understand cover sheets that help explain how to apply and some background information has been moved to lower down on the application to make the information consumers have to immediately wade through less cumbersome.
Next up for Obamacare: The opening of consumer call centers that offer information on how to purchase the insurance that’s right for you. These centers will open on June 1 in states with exchanges run by the federal government, and on July 1 for states that have chosen to run their own marketplaces.
What do you find confusing about the Affordable Care Act or getting health insurance? Have you looked at the new form? If so, did you understand it?
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Fran Kritz is a freelance writer specializing in health and health policy and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. Takepart.com