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Health insurance websites now doing more to help shoppers

Health Care and Health Insurance
by Josh Hammerquist
Slower growth for employer-backed health insurance premiums
Slower growth for employer-backed health insurance premiums

Over the last few years, the ways in which health insurance can be bought online has been in the news quite a bit. Millions of consumers have taken to these marketplace websites in the last few years to buy coverage, and it should come as little surprise that many of these sites are now doing more to make the experience better for users in a number of ways.

In fact, new data shows that these sites have done a significant amount since they were first launched to improve the amount of help they extend to consumers who are trying to buy health insurance - many for what could be the first time in their lives - on these exchanges, according to a new study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. These researchers found that Healthcare.gov and the 12 health insurance exchanges operated solely by individual states are helpful not only to those who are going deep into the sites to shop for coverage, but also those who may just be browsing with an eye toward making a purchase some time later.

How do they help?
For the most part, these marketplace sites are starting to give a little more assistance when it comes to helping consumers determine what the actual costs they're going to face on their coverage will be, the report said. This is often done by highlighting not only premiums, but also deductibles and co-pays. How they do so may vary from one site to the next, but most do a pretty good job of helping consumers to understand exactly what kinds of costs they can expect.

However, only three of the 13 sites examined allowed consumers to not only examine their expected health care costs based on the coverage itself, but also the networks of care providers available to them and how much they could expect to pay based on things like how often they visit the doctor, or how many prescriptions they usually need.

Exchange sites are now making shopping for insurance a little easier for people to understand.Exchange sites are now making shopping for insurance a little easier for people to understand.

What can be done better?
In addition, many of these sites might not do enough to help consumers understand not only what they're paying, but why, the report said. For instance, only nine of these sites help people actually understand common insurance industry terms such as "deductible" and co-insurance" through popup definitions, and only four allowed consumers to sort the coverage options they were seeing by the overall quality of care they could buy. Dr. Charlene A. Wong, the study's lead author and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar and fellow in Penn's Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, noted that this is all important, simply because it plays such a huge role in helping people find the coverage that's right for them.

Meanwhile, insurance companies themselves might want to start doing a bit more to help their clients understand the ins and outs of coverage, as studies have shown people tend to be the most satisfied with their plans when they fully understand them and have a good relationship with their insurer.

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