CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., wants health insurance providers to give consumers "clear and concise information" to help them decide what health insurance policy they should purchase."Shopping for health insurance has habitually been confusing, exasperating and stressful," Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said during a committee hearing on Wednesday.Rockefeller championed a provision in the Affordable Care Act called the "Summary of Benefits and Coverage" provision."Prior to this provision in health reform, consumers had no easy way to learn about or compare different policies -- and when they asked for more information about the plans, they usually got bulky documents written in legal jargon and small print -- and sometimes they only got that after they purchased a plan," Rockefeller said.
Insurance companies were not required to begin complying with the new SBC provision until last fall.In November, a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll showed Rockefeller's SBC provision was the most popular part of the health reform law, viewed positively by 84 percent of those who participated in the poll.Rockefeller said "consumers were sometimes intentionally left in the dark -- because health insurance companies purposely made their materials incomprehensible."Their goal was to get consumers to give up and unknowingly accept the bad deal they were getting. This was especially disastrous for families dealing with serious health problems. And I was determined to change it."Under the new law, health-insurance companies are required to offer potential consumers "easy-to-understand" descriptions of what benefits their policies offer, including costs and exactly what health services will be covered.For years, Rockefeller has criticized insurance companies and other businesses for providing consumers copies of contracts and other agreements on pages of tiny, hard-to-read print.Rockefeller made sure the new health-care law contains a "clear labeling" provision, requiring insurance companies to provide their customers with documents "written in clear language and in a font [type size and style] consumers can easily read." The new law also requires insurance providers to give real-life examples about how their insurance plans cover expenses for health events such as the birth of a new child or treating chronic diseases.The Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, issued a report about the benefits of the SBC provision in the Health Care Act this week.The report states that "low rates of awareness" among health-plan shoppers shows that "much more needs to be done to publicize consumer's rights" under the SBC provision.The Consumers Union report also suggests that "additional medical scenarios" be added to examples insurance companies provide to potential customers, including examples of costs involved in getting "out-of-network coverage" or costs charged for visits to emergency rooms.
The Consumers Union also found only 50 percent of the respondents participating in their study remembered seeing the SBC sections of their insurance policies when they renewed them.Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.