Cohn: Obamacare’s New Paperwork Is Simpler than Private Insurers’

Good stuff from Jonathan Cohn again.  Read the full post.  Here are what seem to me to be the crucial excerpts:

Obamacare’s New Paperwork Is Simpler than Private Insurers’

A reason to hope that implementation won’t go as badly as people fear

The “chaos” of Obamacare just got a little less chaotic. On Tuesday morning, the Obama Administration released its new insurance application, for use on the new health insurance marketplaces. The marketplaces are for people without employer-sponsored coverage, and the idea has always been to make the application process as simple as possible.

It didn’t look so great in March, when the administration released a prototype of the application. The paper version was 15 pages long for a family of three. That’s not quite as bad as it sounds. The form would have appeared shorter online, and not everybody would have been forced to fill out the entire thing. But many people still found it intimidating…

But administration officials say they listened to the critics and, after the initial release, made a concerted effort to simplify. …

The result is a new, sleeker application. (You can see the full family version here.) … I tried the application myself and it took me less than ten minutes to fill out the whole thing. Apparently that’s pretty average: Administration officials say that, in their tests, the average completion time was seven minutes.   And I’m not the only one impressed. Time’s Joe Klein, who was among those criticizing the old application and the first to report on the new one, says the improvement “shows the Administration is alert and flexible and responsive—and, if we’re lucky, may turn out to be innovative in enacting a system that will bring health care to those who haven’t had it before, and lower costs to the self-employed masses who’ve had to go out and buy insurance on their own.”

That last point is critical. And to fully appreciate it, you should compare it to some of the applications available today. In my home state of Michigan, as in many states, the largest insurer selling individual coverage is Blue Cross Blue Shield. The application for its “One Blue” plan—you can see it here—is longer and more complicated than Obamacare’s. And if you look closely, you’ll see why. The application has a whole page of questions about prior medical conditions.

Now go back to the Obamacare application and look for the questions about medical history. You won’t find any. That’s because, once the law is in effect, medical history won’t matter. Insurers won’t be able to treat the healthy and sick differently. That alone is a huge change for the better.

Of course, there are still a million things that could go wrong between now and October, when the new exchanges are supposed to open for business (so that coverage can become effective on January 1). When it comes to eligibility, the biggest challenge isn’t getting the information. It’s processing that information properly, so that people end up with the right kind of coverage, and at the right price. Given the complexity of the system, and active resistance of so many officials at the state level, some problems with implementation are virtually inevitable—and, based on what I’ve been hearing, more likely than not to happen. But this new form is another sign that things won’t go as badly as some people fear.