Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Buying Health Insurance From the Government

Washington is excited about their consumer health insurance portal and are perhaps having visions of providing "direct to consumer" choices for health insurance. Healthcare.gov is an expanding and changing site with quite a bit of information, some of it actually useful.

The latest addition is an "Explore Your Options" button that allows consumers to share personal information with the government in exchange for ideas on how to find health insurance coverage. You start by selecting your state then proceed through different pages based on your response.

Don't want to answer a question?

Too bad. Just like Seinfeld's Soup Nazi, "no information for you!".

The site will not let you progress until you answer every question.

At first the questions seem non-threatening but gradually become more personal.

You start by telling the government where you live by selecting one of the 57 states in a drop down box. Next you must pick one of the following that best describes your situation. Are you:

Family, healthy individual or sick individual (you must decide which), pregnant woman (can males get pregnant?), someone with a disability, senior, young adult, small employer or self employed.

Assuming you pick something that best describes your situation you can progress to the next page. If you are under age 26 and a pregnant female you must pick one since the government does not allow you to be both.

Before you go on you might want to read their privacy policy. Of course they would not collect any information that is not pertinent to helping you find the best health plan for your needs.

Or would they?

We automatically collect and temporarily store the following information about your visit:

the name of the domain you use to access the Internet (for example, aol.com, if you are using an American Online account, or stanford.edu, if you are connecting from Stanford University's domain);

the date and time of your visit;

the pages you visited; and

the address of the web site you came from when you came to visit.

I will let you decide if you really want to share this much information with big brother.

Back to the health insurance info . . .

I opted to pick a category that best described me and chose healthy individual. I admit I was lured in by the "Just two quick steps" at the top of the page. After all, if this is all they need, no big deal, right?

On the next page they tell you "Just a few more questions . . ."

Why does this seem like a visit to the dental office where he says you might feel a slight prick?

On this page you need to make some decisions again, including how much more you want to share with the government. Are you losing coverage through your employer or do you need health insurance?

Apparently if you are not losing your employer plan or if you do not have any pressing medical needs they feel there is no reason for you to even be at this site. Healthy people need go no further.

If for some crazy reason you decide you want to explore your options, even if you are healthy, you must decide which age bracket fits your situation. If you are a family and one individual is over 25 and the other is under age 26 you are again faced with a dilemma. Pick one if you want to progress.

The next category lets you make more than one selection so you can be a pregnant military veteran (presumably a woman) as well as an American Indian or Alaskan Native and still qualify for something.

The last question before leaving this page wants to know if you have trouble affording health insurance. I don't imagine they will have many "no" answers but since I like to be as helpful as I can since the government is taking such an interest in my personal life I decide to answer this as "no".

Based on the answers I have provided so far I am offered four choices. The options include finding a job with health insurance (good luck on that one), buying health insurance in the open market, exploring the PCIP plan, and finding local free health care clinics.

Already they have lured me in but I don't want to leave without finding out what is behind door number 2, so I tell the government I want to explore insurance in the private market.

Now they want to know just a bit more information before letting me proceed.

They want my zip code.

Why do I feel like there is a government drone or spy satellite watching my every move?

The next page gives me the option of going to the Georgia Department of Insurance website or picking a link to any one of 14 health insurance company websites. They currently offer 45 plans to pick spread over the 14 carriers. Some have only 1 plan while others have 13.

When you click on a carrier link you are offered a very brief description of plans that are readily available in the market either direct from health insurance companies or through an insurance broker. The difference here is, if you want rates you have to come back in October. There are no rates available at this time on the government site.

So you have given the government all this personal information only to find there are no answers.

I don't know about you but this just makes me feel used.

For what it is worth, I have offered visitors a health insurance quote engine on my site for years. Anyone looking for affordable health insurance in Georgia is free to visit my site, run quotes and apply for health insurance. They can do this on their own or solicit my advice.

Either way, I do not collect information and send it to the government.

There are some things that are constant based on my experience. Over half of those who run a health insurance quote don't want anyone to know who they are or how to contact them. On average, about a fourth are willing to seek advice about which plan to pick and how to apply.

Roughly 5% of those who run a health insurance quote will also start an application for coverage without asking for assistance. Well over 90% of those never complete the application and about half that do are turned down mostly because they did not know how to respond to the questions on the application.

I don't know what the government is expecting, but if they think they are going to provide a service that will result in thousands or millions obtaining health insurance they will probably be disappointed.

You may be able to build a ballpark and they will come, but not so for a health insurance website.

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