Insurance exchanges to entice dissatisfied consumers

Jim O'Neil

Just a few days after the health insurance exchange final rule was issued comes news that consumers increasingly are willing to shop for a health plan through these exchanges because they are unhappy with their current health plan.

A new survey report from J.D. Power and Associates shows that 55 percent of health plan members with individual coverage likely would use a state-run exchange. The 2012 U.S. Member Health Plan Study, which analyzed member satisfaction among 141 health plans, also found that only 37 percent of members wouldn't shop for insurance through an exchange, compared to 50 percent of members in 2011 who said they would continue getting their health insurance through work.

Perhaps more interestingly, 39 percent of members with employer-sponsored coverage also said they would use these exchanges, if available. That's a surprising statistic because the exchanges are designed to appeal to individual consumers rather than people who typically obtain insurance through their employers.

What's more, the study also found that members with employer-sponsored insurance are interested in receiving vouchers from their company to purchase health policies through exchanges. About 41 percent of these members said they would use exchanges if vouchers were available.

The survey also found that "satisfaction with commercial health insurance in America remains low," Rick Millard, senior director of the healthcare practice at J.D. Power and Associates, told FierceHealthPayer. While that conclusion isn't a revelation in and of itself, it does help explain the increased interest in exchanges.

Members want insurers to be more transparent, provide simpler benefit designs and make fewer policy changes each year. However, "health plans struggle to communicate with their members, particularly at helping them understand coverage and benefits," Millard noted.

"The relatively low levels of satisfaction that people report could potentially result in their being more receptive to alternative purchasing," he told FierceHealthPayer. Members likely view exchanges as providing more choices or greater affordability. Exchanges particularly appeal to people who lack choices in health plans or types of coverage, Millard added.

What's the takeaway message here? If member satisfaction dips low enough, exchanges really could become a more appealing method of shopping for health insurance, potentially decreasing reliance on employers to provide health plan options. The jury is still out whether that will be beneficial or detrimental to insurers. -Dina (@HealthPayer)