Beware of lack of transparency in insurance websites


State insurance marketplaces need to improve functionality and transparency, says a new report from the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report shows that states need to make improvements in the clarity, accessibility, and functionality of their online insurance marketplaces to make them more consumer-friendly and transparent. The paper was prepared by researchers at the Urban Institute and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report authors studied marketplace websites in California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington, along with the federal health exchange, Healthcare.Gov, to determine how easy it is for consumers to find what type of plans are offered. The study also looked at which providers are in a plan's network and the overall consumer-friendliness of the site.

Researchers found most states fail to clearly label what type of plan is offered. Most states also send consumers to insurance company websites to discover which providers are covered under the network, instead of listing physician directories on the marketplace website, the study showed.

Based on their analyses, the authors suggested site improvements, including creating clear and accurate "hover over" definitions of plan and network types and sizes for consumers scrolling over specific plans. The authors also propose creating fully functional physician directories for each plan within the marketplace website.

"There is a consensus that the websites consumers use to choose health plans are not sufficiently transparent, particularly with regard to provider networks," said Katherine Hempstead of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "More needs to be done to improve health insurance tools so that they better support consumer choice."

"As an industry, we need to learn from one another," says California-based Kaiser Permanente's Jack Cochran, M.D., executive director of the Permanente Federation, in an exclusive interview previously reported by FierceHealthPayer.

"The entire industry needs to shift its focus on quality at a reasonable cost for families," Cochran says. "What's more, health plans and hospitals can also help with this by aligning and forming accountable care organizations that focus on quality of care."

For more:
-here's the report

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