How Will Consumers Choose Exchange Coverage?

The Pacific Business Group on Health yesterday released the third and final installment of its comprehensive report on how to ensure that the people joining a health benefit exchange end up with the plan that works best for them.

“The whole notion of the Affordable Care Act and the establishment of the exchange is to improve the overall health care marketplace,” said Ted von Glahn, a senior director at PBGH, a not-for-profit business coalition focused on health care issues.

“If you don’t get it right when people are making those choices,” von Glahn said, “that would defeat the whole purpose of it.”

That’s one of the points of yesterday’s report, that health officials need to make sure that the choice of a health plan for consumers in the exchange becomes both a simple and well-informed decision.

The report, done in three installments, is based on a series of 2,100 interviews overall, conducted in 2012 with low-income participants chosen to mirror the demographic makeup of expected enrollees in the exchange in 2014.

Outside of premium cost, one of the most important factors to increase enrollment among participants is to make the process a simple one. The first recommendation of the report is to offer shortcuts to the choice of a health plan. That simple approach — basically nudging participants to consider common concerns — must be balanced by the flexibility to also present consumers with more detailed and in-depth information about their choices, von Glahn said. Basically, the approach is to simplify choices, but to be able to lay out the more complex components to choosing a plan, such as the level of varying deductible levels a consumer would pay, for instance.

“Because we know there are half a dozen things that stand out, that matter to people, so you want to nudge them to consider certain aspects,” von Glahn said. “But you don’t want to curtail their opinions or needs. You have to give people choices of what they want to choose.”

The cost calculator, for instance, will be an important component of the health plan selection process, von Glahn said.

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