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Feds curtail paper applications for health care law

| Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 5:42 p.m.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Federal health officials, who encouraged alternate sign-up methods amid the fumbled rollout of their online insurance website, began quietly urging counselors around the country this week to stop using paper applications to enroll people in health insurance because of concerns those applications would not be processed in time.

Interviews with enrollment counselors, insurance brokers and a government official who works with navigators in Illinois reveal the latest change in direction by the Obama administration, which had been encouraging paper applications and other means because of the problems with the website. Consumers must sign up under the federal health overhaul by Dec. 23 in order for coverage to start in January.

“We received guidance from the feds recommending that folks apply online as opposed to paper,” said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Insurance.

After a conference call earlier this week with federal health officials, Illinois health officials sent a memo on Thursday to their roughly 1,600 navigators saying there is no way to complete marketplace enrollment through a paper application. The memo, which Claffey said was based on guidance from federal officials, said paper applications should be used only if other means aren't available.

Federal health officials discussed the issue during a conference call on Wednesday with navigators and certified counselors in several states.

“They've said, do not use paper applications because they won't be able to process them anywhere near in time,” said John Foley, attorney and certified counselor for Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, who was on the call.

That contradicts what federal health officials told reporters during a national media call this week, during which they said there were no problems with paper applications.

“There is still time to do paper applications,” Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said on the call Wednesday.

A CMS spokesman declined to comment directly on the issue Friday. “With the recent fixes to the website, we are encouraging consumers to use HealthCare.gov, since it's the quickest way to get coverage, but paper applications remain an option for consumers and navigators if they choose,” said spokesman Aaron Albright.

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