California health plan dashboard raises bar on data transparency

A data center

California’s new health plan dashboard makes a stride toward data and quality transparency, allowing consumers and researchers access to datasets including enrollment numbers, premium rate histories, consumer complaints, quality surveys and the financial status of health plans.

With the new tool, the state’s Department of Managed Health Care likely provides more data than any other single organization, Betsy Imholz, director of special projects at the advocacy group Consumers Union, told California Healthline. While the information in the tool only applies to plans regulated by the state, the population insured by those plans encompasses nearly 3 in 4 Californians.

The department funded the interactive online dashboard through a grant from the ACA, and pulls together a wealth of information that, while previously available to the public, existed across a heterogeneous set of databases. That made it difficult for consumers to gain access to the information in a comprehensible format, if they even knew it existed in the first place, according to Imholz.

By bringing the data together in one place and implementing a better reporting process, the tool can provide an easy way to compare insurers and their plans on criteria beyond premiums, says Imholz. That information includes total cost and quality of care, as well as consumer experience, fines assessed to plans and rate changes over time.

California’s marketplace offers significantly more coverage choices to consumers, according to the Los Angeles Times. In addition, the expected 13.2 percent average increase in the state’s exchange premiums for 2017 raises the value of detailed, accessible information for consumers.

CaliforniaHealthline also suggests consumers can use data to bolster their confidence when deciding whether to challenge an insurer that denies their claim. Data from the tool show a high success rate among enrollees who challenged denials of care from Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California and Kaiser Permanente.