By Jonathan Easley - 03/25/14 12:18 PM EDT
The ObamaCare exchange in California has agreed to a settlement with liberal groups requiring it to mail voter registration applications to the estimated 4 million people who have selected an insurance plan or enrolled in Medicaid in the state since the marketplace went live on Oct. 1, 2013.
Under the agreement, signed Monday by Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, the state will mail voter registration applications to those who have already selected plans, and by the next open enrollment period in November, will ensure that those who seek coverage in the future are provided with adequate registration opportunities.
“California is on its way to healthier communities and a healthier democracy,” Lori Shellenberger, director of the ACLU of California’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “It is exactly the result Congress intended when it passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) more than 20 years ago.”
According to the NVRA, government offices that provide public assistance of any kind are also deemed voter registration agencies, and must provide a host of voter registration services.
In a letter to the White House earlier this year, the liberal groups argued that this applies to the ObamaCare exchanges because “they provide public assistance within the states, including state Medicaid assistance.”
These agencies are required to provide voter registration application forms, must ask citizens if they would like to register or update their registration, and help applicants complete the application form “to the same degree as is provided in completing the health benefits application form.”
The groups charged that under the current system, potential voters had to hunt for the form, download and print 25 pages of “mostly irrelevant information,” fill out the application by hand and send it in through the mail, which they say is burdensome.
In addition, the groups said the call centers do not offer any voter registration services, and that the healthcare navigators have not been “trained to offer the same level of assistance in completing voter registration applications that they offer in completing the Exchanges’ own application.”
Conservatives have long suggested that the voter-registration section of the healthcare law was politically motivated overreach designed to add Democrats to the voter rolls.
The Affordable Care Act does not require states to designate their exchanges as “voter registration agencies,” but California has taken that step under pressure from outside groups.
A spokesperson for Covered California said in its first months since the launch that the exchange was “focused on its core function of getting its new insurance marketplace up and running, including building a state agency and online enrollment portal from scratch,” but has now turned its attention a voter registration plan.
The exchange began mailing applications last Wednesday, and will have all of them out by May 5, the spokesperson said.
In addition, Covered California will create a dedicated voter registration page on its website, embed links to other enrollment sites, included registration cards in all paper applications, and provide in-person voter registration assistance at its centers.
This story was updated at 1:44 p.m.