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White House reveals simplified health insurance forms

WASHINGTON -- After a storm of complaints, the Obama administration Tuesday unveiled simplified forms to apply for insurance under the president's new health care law.

An earlier version of the forms had provoked widespread griping that they were as complicated as tax forms and might overwhelm uninsured people, causing them to give up in frustration.

The biggest change: a five-page short form that unmarried people can fill out. That form includes a cover page with instructions and another page if you want to designate someone to help you through the process.

For families, the abridged application form starts at 12 pages, and grows as you add children. Most people are expected to use another application method, applying online.

The ease or difficulty of applying for benefits takes on added importance because Americans remain confused about what the health care law will mean for them.

The law is a mandate, not a suggestion. It says virtually all Americans must carry health insurance starting next year, although most will just keep the coverage they now have through their jobs, Medicare or Medicaid.

At his news conference yesterday, President Barack Obama touted the simpler forms as showing how his team listened to criticism from consumer groups and made a fix.

Although the new forms are more concise, the administration wasn't able to completely purge them of complexity. For example, one question asks family applicants with at least one member covered through a job for "the lowest-cost plan that meets the minimum value standard offered only to the employee."

The applications will start becoming familiar to consumers five months from now, on Oct. 1, when new insurance markets open for enrollment in every state. Most people already signed up in their employer's plan don't need to bother with the forms.

Filling out the application is just the first part of the process, to let you know if you qualify for financial help.

Picking a health plan will require additional steps, plus a basic understanding of insurance jargon. Benefits begin Jan. 1, and nearly 30 million uninsured Americans are eventually expected to get coverage.

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