Public, private exchanges use decision support tools to help consumers pick plans

In an era where healthcare consumers shop around for their best insurance options, technology and healthcare firms increasingly use decision support software to help people find optimal coverage, according to the Washington Post.

That's where Picwell comes in. There are about 900,000 variables that go into choosing a health plan, and this new company from the University of Pennsylvania uses predictive analytics to help consumers identify the best coverage based on these variables. The software enters people's age, sex, ZIP code, medications and their doctor into an algorithm to determine recommended health plans.

Minnesota's state-run exchange uses Picwell to help first-time health insurance buyers determine if they got the best plan. Other states are interested in adding decision support tools as well, Katherine Hempstead, a director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told the Post. This past summer, the California Department of Insurance tapped the University of California and the San Francisco-based Consumers Union to create a healthcare price transparency and quality database. 

Decision support software is also popular among private exchanges, which consumers find increasingly easy to use, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report. One such private exchange, Liazon, picks among or near the highest-recommended plans about two-thirds of the time after consumers enter their information into the system, company founder Alan Cohen told the Post.

This technology will be even more influential as consumers who signed up in the health insurance exchange open enrollment period last year must decide if they will re-enroll in the same plan, and they will be looking closely at prices. With 12 million people expected to purchase their own health insurance via an exchange in 2014, and as many as 28 million by 2019, more and more insurance exchange users will directly face the trade-offs between price and product features, according to a FierceHealthPayer guest commentary.

To learn more:
- here's the Washington Post article
- read the Kaiser Family Foundation report

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