by Grace-Marie Turner, The Wall Street Journal.
During his news conference last week, the president sounded defensive in trying to tamp down fears of an impending ObamaCare train wreck. One positive note was his boast about whittling down from 21 pages to three the application for subsidies that individuals have to file. But even that may need some defending.
The three-page application is for people who don’t get health insurance at work and are seeking coverage and subsidies for themselves. One big reason the new form is shorter: the type is smaller, with less space for answers.
The much-derided 21-page application was for families. It is now down to 11 pages, thanks to a trick. Eight pages in the longer application called for filling in information for four additional family members. The new form cuts these pages but says that if you have children, “make a copy of Step 2: Person 2 (pages 4 and 5) and complete.” The work required of the applicant remains the same.
Then there’s a 61-page online application form that is in the draft stage but hasn’t been officially released. This is the drill-down version of the three-page and 11-page printed documents. It has all of the if-then questions the government may need to have answered before it can determine if an applicant is eligible for subsidies.
For example, this online form has nine pages of questions and instructions to determine what a family is and how everyone is related. It announces that it is “governed by complex logic in order to ask the fewest number of questions possible.” Twenty-eight different options for family relationships will be displayed in drop boxes, including first cousin, former spouse and collateral dependent.
The family application (the paper version and the online draft) assumes that someone in the family has a job that offers insurance. There are two pages the applicant must complete on that front.
One question asks: Does your employer “offer a health plan that meets the minimum value standard*?” Following the asterisk is an explanation of how to make that determination: “*An employer-sponsored health plan meets the ‘minimum value standard’ if the plan’s share of the total allowed benefit costs covered by the plan is no less than 60 percent of such costs (Section 36B(c)(2)(C)(ii) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986).”
But back to the new, 11-page form. It contains a strong warning not in the earlier, 21-page draft: “I’m signing this application under penalty of perjury . . . I know that I may be subject to penalties under federal law if I provide false and or untrue information.” That threat may unsettle applicants already not sure they’re correctly answering complicated questions. If they don’t, the consequences could be costly. If an applicant understates his income and receives a larger health-insurance subsidy than he is eligible for, the money must be paid back. That may mean thousands of dollars.
Applicants may be further disturbed when they encounter, on the signature page, this message: “We’ll check your answers using information in our electronic databases and databases from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security, the Department of Homeland Security, and/or a consumer reporting agency. If the information doesn’t match, we may ask you to send us proof.”
Given the complexity of the questions, many people will need help with the application. So there is a handy Appendix C that allows the applicant to “choose an authorized representative” who can gather information and sign “your application on your behalf.” You need to be very sure you can trust this person with the required confidential information (Social Security numbers, income, etc.). Many of those providing help will be footsoldiers in ObamaCare’s newly formed army of hourly-paid “navigators.”
But this being an Obama administration undertaking, the new application will provide a Web link to “complete a voter registration form.”
Ms. Turner is president of the Galen Institute and co-author of “Why ObamaCare Is Wrong for America” (Broadside/HarperCollins 2011).