Remember that vast chain of derided properties that the US postal service owns? Have you recently driven or walked past a post office? I bet that you have.
With some 32,000 post offices in virtually every inhabited corner of the country, the postal service offers a nexus for interacting with the public that few other federal entities can rival. For this reason, in the past US post offices have sometimes been made to serve double duty. Until recently, the IRS used the post offices to make printed tax forms available to taxpayers. The Selective Service has used the post office for decades for draft registration. Post offices house passport services on behalf of the State Department. Historically, the post office has been the communications hub connecting the government at Washington with the people at large. The local, face-to-face character of the post office makes it ideal for placing an initiative within reach of the people.
Now, the Department of Health and Human Services could use the post offices to facilitate Americans’ enrollment in ACA-compliant health-insurance policies listed on the federal insurance exchange. Even if the HealthCare.gov website were fixed overnight, most citizens could still use help figuring out how to apply—how to negotiate the website—their eligibility for subsidies—that sort of thing. Given all the concern about the under-utilization of post offices as federal property, pressing them into service at this juncture would be a crowd-pleaser—one justified on grounds of efficiency, too. Teams of HHS and IRS personnel (or even volunteers from Americorps) could be enlisted to staff these physical exchanges, where citizens could learn about the policies and sign up for them, with the aid of old-fashioned paper forms, if need be. The New York Times recently reported on the success of one such face-to-face state-level system in Kentucky.
I sincerely hope that the Administration will think more creatively about how to bring Obamacare’s promises to the public without more delay. Given the vast resources of the government, there is no single right way, but many ingenious strategies that will advance the nation toward attaining health-care coverage for all.
© 2013 Susan Barsy