Concerns linger about consumers' ACA, plan choice literacy

Even as the Obama administration strives to engage consumers in the third open enrollment period, there are signs that Americans' knowledge of the Affordable Care Act rules is limited and their awareness of health insurance options continue to come up short.

For example, the penalty for not getting covered sharply increases this year to $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of total household income, which, in theory, should encourage more individuals to obtain insurance. But as a National Journal article points out, that's dependent upon people knowing about the penalty as well as how and when to enroll. Only 17 percent of the overall public is aware of when open enrollment starts, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last week.

"How people will weigh this is anybody's guess," Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation, tells the publication, though she adds that "the expectation is that this penalty will get people's attention."

Even when they do use the exchanges to shop for insurance, many Americans choose the wrong plans, which results in them paying more than needed, notes a piece for the New York Times. Numerous past studies have shown, the article says, that consumers struggle to make sense of their health insurance options, with one highlighting the fact that labels such as "gold" and "bronze" can lead consumers to choose plans poorly.

Seeking to arm consumers with better tools when choosing plans, the federal government has upgraded Healthcare.gov and is testing a "Doctor Lookup" feature, the latter of which it provided more details about this week. In its announcement of the feature, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services says that "for the first time, insurers are required to provide up-to-date information about which doctors and facilities are in their networks."

Plans must also provide information on what medications are covered in the health plan formulary so that Healthcare.gov can pilot what it calls its "Prescription Drug Check" feature. 

To learn more:
- read the National Journal article
- here's the Times piece
- read the CMS announcement

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