WASHINGTON (AP) — The first draft was as mind-numbing as a tax form.
Tuesday, the Obama administration tried again. It unveiled simplified application forms for the insurance coverage coming next year under the health care overhaul, which is such a mystery to Americans that many of them, according to polls, don't believe that it exists.
The biggest change presented Tuesday: a five-page short form for single people to fill out. And that includes a cover page with instructions and an extra page to fill out if you want to designate someone to help you through the whole process. So, really, it's a three-page form.
On the other hand, the application form for families still runs 12 pages, although most families won't have to fill out every page.
Most people who already have coverage through their jobs won't have to bother with the forms at all.
The shape and burden level of this paperwork is taking on added importance because many Americans remain confused about what President Barack Obama's health care overhaul will mean for them.
A new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 4 in 10 people were unaware that Obamacare — as some call it — is the law of the land. Some think it was repealed by Congress. In fact, it's still on track, the main portion set to take effect Jan. 1.
Obama on Tuesday hailed the simplified forms as an example of how his team has listened to criticism from consumer groups, which complained that “'well, this is too long, especially ... in this age of the Internet. People aren't going to have the patience to sit there for hours on end.”
The streamlining is the kind of refinements “we're going to be working on,” he said.
Most important, Obama said, the law's benefits will be available to all Americans, even if some Republicans in Congress still talk of repealing the law and even if some GOP governors won't help implement it.
Americans without insurance now have five months to start getting familiar with the new paperwork. On Oct. 1, new insurance marketplaces, called exchanges, are to open in each state, and the application forms will be the first step.
Through the exchanges, most middle-class people will be able to buy private health insurance and get a tax credit based on income, to make the premiums more affordable. Uninsured low-income Americans will be steered to government health programs such as Medicaid.
The coverage starts Jan. 1. About 30 million Americans who don't have insurance now are expected to eventually get it.
The sign-up forms don't ask a lot of health questions, because insurance companies will no longer be allowed to turn away the sick or charge them more. Instead, the forms focus on money.
Consumers must provide a summary of their finances — such as salary, alimony, tips and other sources of income — to see if they qualify for the tax credit. Before starting, people will have to round up their tax returns, pay stubs and other financial records.
“Given the amount of information necessary to determine eligibility, it's hard to see how the forms could be any shorter,” said Robert Laszewski, a former insurance executive turned industry consultant.
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, also called the streamlined forms “very positive.” He was one of the critics who found the first versions too onerous.
Obama administration officials say they expect most people to apply online, through the new exchanges in each state.