Voter registration: Should the ACA exchanges be like the DMV?

Political debate could hamper enrollment efforts, opponents say

Topics: Health Policy, Market Trends, Strategy, Access to Care, Quality, Performance Improvement, Appropriateness

August 22, 2013

Policy and election experts are divided over whether the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) insurance exchanges should comply with a 1993 law that requires state governments to offer voter registration services along with government public assistance programs, Jessica Zigmond reports for Modern Healthcare.

The 1993 National Voter Registration Act requires certain offices and agencies—such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, state welfare program administrators, and armed forces recruitment centers—to provide voter registration applications. Other federal agency offices can choose to offer the registration service on a state-by-state basis, according to Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at Heritage Foundation and a former member of the Federal Election Commission.

Officials in California, New York, and Vermont already have indicated that they will offer voter registration through the states' exchanges, which are set to begin enrollment on Oct. 1.

HHS also has indicated that it is required—under Section 7 of the motor voter law—to offer voter registration in the states where it will operate exchanges. The agency stipulation limits the requirement to cases in which individuals are eligible for coverage through Medicaid or the exchanges, according to Modern Healthcare's Zigmond.

Critics: Political debate could stymie enrollment

Opponents of the voter-registration service requirement argue that applicants might be led to believe that they have to register to vote in order to qualify for coverage or federal subsidies.

"I think it's easy for applicants to get the impression that if they don't register to vote, they're not going to get the government benefit they applied for," von Spakovsky says, adding, "People in federal agencies have to be really well trained to make it very clear that whether or not you get the benefit doesn't depend on whether you register to vote."

R. Doug Lewis, executive director of the National Association of Election Officials, says that support for the issue is divided along party lines, with Democrats in favor of voter registration services and Republicans opposed. Lewis and von Spakovsky say they are waiting to see if the Obama administration will provide more guidance, although some policy experts have suggested that the issue could be decided in the courts (Zigmond, Modern Healthcare, 8/20 [subscription required]).

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