- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2013

President Obama on Tuesday vowed that his health care law will be a success for both insured and soon-to-be-covered Americans, even though it is a “big, complicated piece of business” facing ceaseless criticism on Capitol Hill and roadblocks to implementation in Republican-led states.

To back up his assurance, he said his administration has trimmed the form that individuals will use to sign up for insurance markets, or “exchanges,” under the Affordable Care Act from 21 pages to only three. He said that’s an example of how his administration is moving to avoid the “train wreck” of implementation that even some Democrats now fear.

“Immediately everybody sat around the table and said, ‘Well, this is too long, especially, you know, in this age of the Internet. People aren’t going to have the patience to sit there for hours on end. Let’s streamline this thing,’” Mr. Obama told reporters at a White House news conference.

His administration has roughly five months to set up the exchanges, which as of 2014 will allow those without employer-based insurance to buy plans with the help of tax credits. Most of those who don’t obtain coverage will also begin to face a tax penalty next year, to be administered by the IRS, which will start as low as $95 before rising in following years.

The president said there will continue to be hiccups in the coming months, but he said deadlines are being met and the “sky-is-falling predictions” critics are making won’t come to pass.

“I think that any time you’re implementing something big, there is going to be people who are nervous and anxious about, ‘Is it going to get done?’ until it’s actually done,” he said, adding “that’s pretty much true of every government program that’s ever been set up.”

Congressional Republicans have repeatedly battered the president over his health overhaul, trumpeting told-you-so reports of proposed rate increases and employers who are shifting full-time workers to part-time status to avoid penalties for failing to provide adequate health insurance.

Mr. Obama acknowledged that half of Congress hates the law and that opposition from states has disrupted the administration’s plans. Many states have decided not to expand Medicaid enrollment, and roughly half of the states asked the federal government to set up the health exchanges that will debut in 2014.

“And it’s ironic, since all these folks say that they believe in empowering states, that they’re going to end up having the federal government do something that we’d actually prefer states to do if they were properly cooperating,” Mr. Obama said.

Open enrollment on the exchanges begins Oct. 1 for coverage that takes effect in January.

The new form to qualify for subsidies on the exchange is shorter than the standard form provided by health insurers today, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Ron Pollack, executive director of consumer advocacy group Families USA, praised the administration’s announcement and said consumers will also find clear summaries of each health plan offered through the exchanges.

“People can’t read the mumbo jumbo and the hieroglyphics of insurance policies, and it drives people batty,” he told C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. “Because they can’t figure out what they’re getting, they can’t compare one plan from another — it’s like comparing apples with elephants or whatever.”

But first, the Obama administration may have to convince people the law still exists. Four in 10 Americans are unaware that the health overhaul “is still the law of the land,” with 12 percent thinking Congress repealed the law and 7 percent believing the Supreme Court struck it down, according to new poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

The poll, released Tuesday, found that 58 percent of the uninsured and 56 percent of low-income households feel they do not have enough information about the reforms.

Republican lawmakers were quick to seize on the poll results, piling on criticism two weeks after Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and key author of the law, told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius he sees “a huge train wreck coming down” if her agency does not educate small businesses and others on the reforms.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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