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In Buying Exchange Insurance, It Helps to Have Help

New online marketplaces don't do enough to let consumers weigh their options, experts say

FRIDAY, Oct. 18 (HealthDay News) -- You have to wade through a lot of insurance jargon and be a skilled number-cruncher to choose the right health insurance plan on the new health exchanges, health literacy and consumer decision-making experts say.

The new Internet-based health insurance exchanges opened for business on Oct. 1 but stumbled out of the blocks. Computer problems and unanticipated levels of website traffic made it difficult, if not impossible, for many people to review their health-plan options in the first week or two of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. The law is the Obama administration's controversial effort to bring health care coverage to an estimated 30 million uninsured Americans.

By making informed choices, consumers not only help themselves, they help drive overall health-plan quality, efficiency, and pricing. But, many consumers are ill-prepared to make the best choices on their own because they lack the necessary math skills or can't accurately weigh their insurance risk. Plus, few health insurance exchanges currently offer the kind of help that many people need to make informed decisions.

"Comparing costs of plans is difficult," said Robert Krughoff, founder and president of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Center for the Study of Services, and Consumers' CHECKBOOK, a publisher of health-plan ratings. First consumers have to figure out whether, say, a $200 deductible with a $10,000 out-of-pocket limit is better than a $1,000 deductible with a $3,000 out-of-pocket limit for them, Krughoff explained. "Then you throw in different co-insurance rates and different co-payments and consumers just can't put all that together into a single number that they can compare," he told HealthDay.

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