The PJ Tatler

Dem Senators to Sebelius: Boost Enrollment 'By All Available Means'

Democratic supporters of President Obama and his healthcare law are itching for the administration to step up enrollment efforts while the Obamacare exchange website is still not fully functional.

Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski fired off a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday asking that she immediately jump on the ball to expand and publicize alternate methods for people to enroll.

“As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ work to repair the website continues, we urge you to ensure that uninsured Americans are able to enroll in health plans through all available means” Cardin and Mikulski told Sebelius.

“Although we received repeated assurances from the Administration in the weeks before and since the web site opened, previous targets set by the Administration for full operability of the web site have not been met,” the Dem senators write. “We are concerned that while the web site’s troubles remain unresolved, healthy individuals will abandon attempts to apply on line, and we want to ensure that they can learn about plans and apply for coverage. Further, if and when additional glitches in the web site arise, Americans should have additional easy-to navigate avenues to apply for coverage.”

They noted that Section 1411 of Obamacare provides Sebelius the flexibility to “modify the methods used under the program established by this section for the Exchange and verification of information if the Secretary determines such modifications would reduce the Administrative costs and burdens on the applicant, including allowing an applicant to request the Secretary of the Treasury to provide the information described in paragraph (3) [household income and family size] directly to the Exchange or to the Secretary.”

Cardin and Mikulski asked Sebelius to use her power “immediately” to take measures including:

(1)   Informing the public that individuals and families who do not qualify for tax credits can apply for coverage directly with participating insurance companies where they will receive the same comprehensive coverage and prices listed on the web site;

(2)   Creating a mechanism through which individuals and families who qualify for tax credits can apply for coverage directly to insurance companies and authorize the companies to directly interface with the hub to verify income, family size, and citizenship;

(3)   Enabling navigators on the HHS toll-free line and in communities to access health plan information without having to rely on the web site;

(4)   Making paper application forms and detailed information about coverage options widely available through a web page that is independent of the web site;

(5)   Enabling individuals to complete the application form on line as taxpayers can file their income tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service; and

(6)   Ensuring that paper application forms and information about coverage options are available to the public at community health centers, hospitals, public libraries and other locations.