HHS Unveils Final Rules on Easy-to-Read Health Insurance Summaries
On Thursday, HHS released final rules for the standardized explanations of benefits that insurers will be required to provide consumers this fall under the federal health reform law, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 2/9).
The new forms are intended to be easy to read, and include a glossary of standard insurance terms and standardized descriptions of what plans will cover (McCarthy, National Journal, 2/9). Premium information will not be provided on the forms, but Obama administration officials said the data should be easily accessible from employers or directly from a health plan.
The six-page summary also will include coverage examples that provide estimates of the cost of treatment for a typical enrollee to manage his or her diabetes or have a child (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 2/9). HHS had considered including breast cancer treatments as a third example but dropped it from the final rules.
Steve Larsen -- head of CMS' Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight -- said, "There was concern expressed that breast cancer versus the other ones was a more complicated treatment scenario, that it wasn't always standardized across insurers or even the type of cancer" (National Journal, 2/9). Up to six additional coverage examples might be required in the future, Larsen said.
The forms will be required beginning Sept. 23, despite calls from insurers for the rules to become effective 18 months after HHS released them (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 2/9).
Insurers are permitted to offer the summaries online but must tell consumers that they can receive a hard copy promptly upon request (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 2/9). Insurers that fail to comply with the rules could pay up to $1,000 per enrollee, Larsen said.
Acting CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said the forms will "allow people to make an apples-to-apples comparison of plans" (National Journal, 2/9). "If an insurance plan offers substandard coverage in some area, they won't be able to hide it in dozens of pages of text," she said (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 2/9).
Reaction to the new rules was mixed. Consumer advocates praised the regulations.
Stephen Finan, of the Cancer Action Network, said, "At least, patients will finally receive comprehensible and necessary information to make the best decision about coverage for themselves and their families" (National Journal, 2/9).
Meanwhile, business groups were unsatisfied. Meanwhile, business groups were unsatisfied.
Neil Trautwein, vice president of the National Retail Federation, said, "We don't like it, even though they have taken steps to make it a little more palatable."
Health insurers said that they already provide user-friendly materials to consumers and that the rules will result in duplication and increased costs (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 2/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.