How to Help Consumers and Employers Choose the Health Plans That Best Meet Their Needs and Preferences
How Health Insurance Exchanges (Marketplaces) Can Provide Easy-to-Use Plan Comparison Tools That Lead to Excellent, Personalized Choices Based on Valid Information on Cost, Plan Quality, and Quality and Availability of Providers

Health Insurance Exchanges are required, under the Affordable Care Act, to help consumers find reasonably priced, high-quality health insurance plans. These Exchanges might be created by states or will be provided by the Federal government to serve residents of states that do not create their own.

These Exchanges have the potential to help millions of Americans get affordable health insurance coverage and access to high-quality care, and can contribute to overall improvement in the quality and efficiency of the health care system. But key to realizing that potential is for the Exchanges to ensure that consumers and employers have a health plan comparison tool to assist them in selecting the plans that best meet their needs and preferences.

Consumers' CHECKBOOK/Center for the Study of Services is working to ensure that every Exchange gives its consumers and employers access to such a plan comparison tool. We are sharing what we have learned from working with Exchanges and from our extensive research, testing, and experience providing our Guide to Health Plans comparison tool over the past 35 years for the eight million consumers who get insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Dozens of agencies have subscribed to that tool for their employees (HHS, Labor, IRS, U.S. Senate, Federal Reserve, etc.). We are also sharing other excellent resources to help in the design and implementation of such tools.

 
Resources
  • www.healthplanratings.org - This website, created as a free public service, will help Illinois consumers choose health plans from the federal marketplace that best meet their needs and preferences.
  • Associated Press: Tool to Compare Health Pans Tested With Consumers (Read here)
  • The Wall Street Journal: Finding the Right Health Plan, Online
    (Read here)
  • CHECKBOOK tips on buying health insurance for you and your family in new Federally required "marketplaces" (Read here).
  • Video showing a model health plan comparison tool developed by CHECKBOOK/CSS demonstrating key tool features (Watch here).
  • White paper written by CHECKBOOK/CSS for HHS and states describing essential plan comparison tool features and the research behind them (Read here).
  • Presentation by Robert Krughoff at an Institute of Medicine committee meeting--describes and illustrates key features of a plan comparison tool. (Watch here).
  • Report by Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) explores how six health plan chooser tools use choice architecture to guide consumers to plan selections. The report looks at eHealthinsurance, Medicare's Plan Finder, Massachusetts Connector, CHECKBOOK's Guide for Federal Empoyees, PBGH/CalPERS, and User Experience 2014. This report, Choice Architecture: Design Decisions That Affect Consumers Health Plan Choices, will be of particular interest to policymakers and designers crafting the new health benefit exchanges called for by the Affordable Care Act. (Read PDF here).
  • Health Plan Comparison Tool Specifications for use by states building Exchanges—how states should specify their requirements for health plan comparison tools. Intended to ensure that Exchanges have comparison tools that will help consumers select the health plans that best meet their needs and preferences (Read here).
  • Paper by Lynn Quincy of Consumer Reports documenting the need to provide more than the usual information to help consumers evaluate the cost of health plans: "What's Behind the Door: Consumers' Difficulties Selecting Health Plans" (Read here).
  • Health Affairs blog by Robert Krughoff, Walton Francis, and Robert Ellis (CHECKBOOK/CSS) - "Helping Consumers Choose Health Plans In Exchanges: Best Practice Recommendations" (Read here).
  • At a forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, Sam Gibbs (eHealthinsurance), Lynn Quincy (Consumer Reports), Robert Ellis, and Robert Krughoff (CSS/CHECKBOOK) address "Helping Consumers and Employers Make Better Health Plan Choices: What's in the Tool Box?" (Watch here).
  • The Council of State Governments interviewed Krughoff and Ellis from CHECKBOOK/CSS on comparing health insurance plans, state health insurance exchanges, and the opportunity states may miss if they don't focus on providing meaningful comparisons of plan cost and quality to consumers (Read here).