It’s Time to Weigh in: CMS Wants Your Comments on the Single, Streamlined Application

By Jennifer Sullivan

HHS is hard at work developing the Secretary’s model for the single, streamlined application for health coverage that she will issue this year. The Affordable Care Act requires her to develop an application that can be completed online, by mail, by phone, or in person. Last month, CMS issued a list of data elements for the application that is open for comment until September 4, 2012. These are the pieces of information needed to determine what coverage a consumer can get. They include things like contact information, how many people are in the household, and projected annual income. Together, these data elements are the nuts and bolts of what make up the application.

While a list of data elements might not normally be high on your list of August beach reading, we encourage you to reconsider this year. This list gives stakeholders the first real glimpse into what the application for health coverage purchased through a health insurance exchange will look like. Sure, it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles yet (like the actual questions that will be asked or any visual of what the application itself will look like), but getting these data elements right is an incredibly important part of ensuring that as many eligible people as possible get enrolled.

The documents open for comment include a couple of tables (one for applications for financial assistance with the cost of coverage, and one for general applications for coverage through a health insurance exchange) and a description of how long it might take people to complete the paper and online versions of the application. (In case you’re curious, they estimate it will take anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes to complete an application, depending on whether the application is online or paper, and whether it’s an application for assistance or just for purchasing coverage through the exchange.)

We encourage our partners to consider submitting comments, and we’ve provided a short list of questions to jump-start your thinking:

  • What does and does not work well about the existing Medicaid or CHIP application processes in your state?
    • Are there questions that routinely trip people up?
    • Have you learned good ways to phrase certain questions so that people understand them and complete the application correctly?
  • In what order should the questions be asked?
  • What kinds of information should be collected about applicants that will help improve future outreach efforts? (e.g. languages spoken by members of the household, race/ethnicity, place where application is completed)
  • You can also check out our issue brief, The Ideal Application Process for Health Coverage, for more ideas about how to ensure consumers aren’t hindered by the application process.

CMS has noted in recent public meetings that this will be one of the last opportunities to provide significant input on the single, streamlined application and how it will work. They are currently conducting iterative consumer testing with different drafts of a model application (which is not publicly available right now), and they’ll develop the final model based on the results of this testing and the comments collected during the public comment period. CMS is planning a 30-day public comment period on the final model application, but by that point, major revisions to the application process and data elements will be much harder to make. This means you should take advantage of this comment period to voice your ideas for making the application for health coverage as user-friendly and effective as possible.

Update (September 4, 2012): Enroll America submitted these comments on the single, streamlined application data elements.

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