coming July 1

KHN’s Phil Galewitz previews the July 1 launch of a federal website he says “will give consumers a list of all private and government health care plans for individuals and small businesses in their areas,” a service required by the reform bill, and one that has never before been part of the modern system.

The initial site will just provide basic information on each plan, but a planned October upgrade will include what Galewitz called “detailed cost and benefits information,” the precise nature of which is still being negotiated. Insurance groups, predictably, say that sharing all the information HHS plans to provide will just lead to confusion and higher costs. Consumer groups disagree.

Insurers including UnitedHealthcare and Aetna say HHS is going too far in planning to list certain data, such as the percent of claims that health plans deny, the rate at which they cancel policies after customers get sick and the number of times patients appeal coverage decisions. They say the data would mislead potential customers.

The site can “be the great equalizer so consumers can have equal access to information and be on the same playing field as insurance companies,” says Elisabeth Benjamin, co-founder of Health Care for All New York, a consumer health care coalition. “The government needs to make the information as open as possible.”

Until 2014, when stricter provisions of the reform bill go into effect and such practices are no longer permitted, the site will list only the “sticker prices” of the plans, and insurers will still be allowed to charge sicker patients more.

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