Two pieces of news provide a flicker of hope amid the doom and gloom.
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 -- The Consumers Union issued the following news release:
Lynn Quincy, senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, will share new poll results when she testifies Wednesday at a Senate Commerce committee hearing. Her testimony will focus on the 2012 roll-out of the Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) form which allows consumers to compare health insurance plans apples-to-apples and cuts through confusing jargon using standardized health plan descriptions.
When the new form was pre-tested with consumers, it was well received. Experience with the form during fall 2012 open enrollment reinforces these favorable findings. A new, nationally representative survey conducted by Consumer Reports shows consumers who used the SBC reported a good experience, with very few (9%) reporting they were dissatisfied with the clear presentation of the benefits and costs of the health plan. When asked to rate the SBC against other common sources of health plan information, these consumers ranked the SBC above other sources - like employer provided health plan comparisons - in terms of helpfulness.
However, the survey also found that just half (50%) of consumers who shopped for or renewed private health insurance coverage in the fall of 2012 recalled seeing the SBC form. Rates were even lower (35%) for those who shopped for coverage on their own in the non-group market.
"What these results show us is that the Summary of Benefits and Coverage can make a difference in the consumer health insurance shopping experience - but too few consumers appear to be aware of the form," said Quincy. "It's clear that consumers like the form, but in order to get the most out of it we need to find a way to make sure consumers see the SBC when they are shopping for insurance."
The disclosure form includes a new feature, called a Coverage Example, which outlines the consumer's bottom line for a hypothetical medical scenario, like having a baby. The poll found that roughly half of shoppers who viewed the SBC did not remembering seeing the coverage examples.
Quincy said, "While these coverage examples pre-tested very well with consumers, they are near the back of the multi-page document. In order for more consumers to use the new coverage examples when they shop, we would suggest moving them towards the beginning of the form so consumers are more likely to see them."
The Summary of Benefits and Coverage, created by the Affordable Care Act, is available when consumers shop for coverage on their own or choose a plan through their employer. Recognizing the absence of uniform health plan information, Commerce Committee Chairman Rockefeller initially introduced the Informed Consumer Choices in Health Care Act in 2009 to help consumers obtain the information they need to make informed choices about health insurance coverage, before ensuring the SBC's inclusion in the Affordable Care Act. He then ensured the SBC's inclusion in the Affordable Care Act.
Consumers Union has been committed to incorporating consumer feedback in the development of the SBC, conducting extensive consumer testing of the draft Summary of Benefits and Coverage before the form was finalized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The group also encouraged consumers who use the form to share their feedback and provided a consumer-friendly explainer introducing the form to consumers.
The hearing is scheduled to begin at 2:30 PM on Wednesday, February 27th. For more information, please visit www.commerce.senate.gov.
The Consumer Reports National Research Center designed a survey administered to a nationally representative sample of a segment of the adult U.S. population in December of 2012. The population sampled for this survey was U.S. residents 18 or older who were enrolled in an employer-based or private insurance plan, involved in decisions about enrollment or renewal of their plan, and who had an open enrollment period in Fall, 2012 - or who lacked health insurance at the time of the survey but had shopped for an employer-based or private plan in Fall of 2012. The sample for this survey was comprised of 1,079 randomly selected U.S. residents who met these criteria.
GfK's nationally-representative online panel was sampled for this survey. Panel members are randomly recruited through probability-based sampling, and households are provided with access to the Internet and hardware if needed. For the full sample, sampling error was 3.9% at the 95% confidence level. For the subset of respondents who recalled viewing the SBC Form sampling error was 5.5% at the 95% confidence level.
For a copy of the full report, please visit www.consumersunion.org/Early_SBC_Experience_Report
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