Searching for individual health insurance coverage can be a nightmare. With few options for apples to apples comparisons of rates, services and more, most consumers have ended up relying on an insurance broker whose livelihood is often based on commissions from the policies that he or she recommends. Additionally, the single buyer lacks the purchase power of a small or large group customer and has typically had to pay much higher premiums.
In response to these and other issues, the new health reform law in the U.S. is bringing about some changes. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has added new information and tools to HHS' consumer website www.HealthCare.gov that were developed to make the health insurance market more transparent, increase competition and help lower costs for individuals.
The site is now making price estimates for private insurance policies available, allowing consumers to compare health insurance plans. This puts consumers in charge, instead of insurance companies and brokers, by providing one-stop shopping and taking some of the guesswork and confusion out of buying insurance.
To help consumers make more informed choices, the site includes new information including two notable metrics never before made public:
• Insurance providers are now required to provide the percentage of people who applied for insurance and were denied coverage.
• Insurance companies are now required to provide the percentage of applicants who were charged higher premiums because of their health status.
Created under the Affordable Care Act, www.HealthCare.gov was launched July 1, 2010, and is the first website to bring information and links to health insurance plans to one place to make it easier for consumers to learn about and compare insurance choices. HHS worked to define and collect detailed benefits and premium rating information from insurers across the country, and as of October 1, 2010, enabled consumers to find information about health insurance options such as:
• Monthly premium estimates
• Cost-sharing information, including annual deductibles and out-of-pocket limits
• Major categories of services covered