The individual health insurance market is notoriously difficult to navigate. Finding insurers and the getting to the straight facts on plans, premiums, and requirements is a daunting task.
Help is on the way. Beginning on July 1, a government website will provide a list of private and government health care plans available for individuals and small businesses.
The site is a requirement of The Patient Affordable Health Care Act and will list the names of insurers and their health plans, along with links to insurers for further information.
That’s a start, but in October, additional information will be added to better assist consumers with locating the plans that suit them best. The site will post information on costs and benefits, including details about the percentage of claim denials, rate of cancellations after customers get sick, and the number of appeals. Insurers can’t be pleased about that, but well-informed consumers will benefit.
An article from Kaiser Health News quotes an Aetna spokesman as saying “Let’s do what the legislation sets out and not overcomplicate, which will lead to consumer confusion and higher costs.” A co-founder of Health Care for All New York is quoted in the same article as saying the site can The site can “be the great equalizer so consumers can have equal access to information and be on the same playing field as insurance companies.”
The bad news is that until 2014, insurers will still be allowed to deny coverage or charge higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions. The only difference is that the information will be there for all to see. As I wrote in a previous post, things will likely get worse before they get better for those of us in the individual market.
The site is intended as an informational tool only — consumers will still need to contact individual insurance companies directly in order to sign up for health plans.
In 2014, when the bulk of the health care legislation takes effect, additional websites will come online for the mandatory state-based insurance exchanges, making it easier for small business and people in the individual market to research health insurance options.
As of this writing, HealthCare.gov is not up and running, so be sure to check back on July 1.
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