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On the Third Hand: Lost

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One thing that’s striking about a lot of proposals for helping the uninsured, poor people, sick people, and other worthy people is that the proposers often assume the “helpees” are well-organized computer whizzes with skilled tax accountants on retainer.

See also: Hillary Clinton latches on to caregiver support issue

The proposers assume the helpees will have computers, or at least working telephone lines, or at least enough time, energy and bus fare to connect with an in-person helper.

The proposers assume the helpees will remember many different government Web account passwords; remember answers to the recovery questions for people who forget their passwords; know their Social Security numbers; have pay stubs; have identification documents they can use to prove their identities and immigration status; and be prompt at meeting application and appeals deadlines.

On the one hand: Of course, people who are getting government program help, or some kind of voluntary private-sector help, ought to be grateful, and they ought to do what they can to pull their own weight.

On the other hand: One of the reasons that people end up needing extra help in the first place is that they’re tired and confused.

They may not remember passwords, or know what a computer password is. They may not remember their Social Security numbers. They might be living on the floors of subway stations partly because they lost all of their IDs, and they may lack the ability to get new ID partly because they are missing the $50 or more needed to get to the offices that replace missing IDs.

And, of course, they may be terrible about paperwork and deadlines even if they’re in a moderate income category, or even if they’re in a high income category.

No doubt, there are successful readers of this blog who are wonderful about meeting their clients’ application deadlines but have not looked at many of their own bills since the start of the 2016 open enrollment period. 

On the third hand, it’s hard to know what to do to help disorganized adults cope with modern life in what’s supposed to still be a free society. We’re supposed to be independent sorts who value our privacy and shudder at the thought of Big Brother starting at us through our cell phone cameras, not disorganized password forgetters who wish Big Brother would help us recover our passwords.

On the fourth hand, there are a lot of insurance agents and brokers who could use a new stream of income. Maybe the government could pay producers to run a universal identity management program. Maybe organized consumers could opt out by, for example, by sending in one opt-out notice, then confirming the decision by responding to a letter, email or phone call a week later.

Consumers still in the program who lost the ability to prove who they were could go to a producer’s office and go through a biometric screening process to get replacement ID, without having to travel to a distant government office.

On the fifth hand, maybe that wouldn’t really work. I forget what I was going to suggest next. But, still: If we can send people to the Moon, and use technology to watch Game of Thrones on demand, in bed, we ought to be able to find better ways to help people who have trouble navigating through bureaucratic mazes.

See also: 

GAO: Federal PPACA exchanges are open to fake people

Agent: cancellation service is lousy

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