Consumer Group Finds Key Obamacare Feature Lacking

A national nonpartisan consumer organization that has studied health care for more than three decades has found that Health Insurance Exchanges, a critical component of Obamacare intended to provide consumers with choices of health plans, has worked poorly where it has already been tried.

The organization, Consumers’ Checkbook, writes that the exchanges have a faulty record of providing consumers with usable information about plans’ costs, benefits, and quality.

“Unfortunately, the track record in this field is not good,” writes Checkbook in an email sent to its members. From the email:

It is not just the challenges of comparing plans’ costs. Most existing “exchanges” do not make it easy for consumers to find out which plans have their preferred doctors—or to identify good doctors and other providers. Most provide only limited help for consumers to evaluate the quality of care and service they can expect with each plan.

Under Obamacare, every state is required to set up “exchanges,” essentially marketplaces where consumers can shop for plans by comparing their services and prices.

But exchanges set up in states prior to Obamacare have failed to provide enough useful information for consumers to make informed choices.

When buyers attempt to price shop the plans, they are left with “mind-boggling cost questions” that inhibit their ability to easily make accurate comparisons, according to Checkbook. The group notes:

Research by Consumer Reports has found that consumers “dread” shopping for health insurance, and that the “difficulties are so profound that the vast majority of consumers are essentially being asked to buy a very expensive product—critical to their health—while blindfolded.”

In the email, Checkbook suggests a variety of remedies to try to make the exchanges more effective.

Under Obamacare, the exchanges are scheduled to be fully operational by Jan. 1, 2014. If states fail to establish the exchanges, the federal government will do it for them.

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