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What’s Behind the Door: Consumers’ Difficulties Selecting Health Plans

Consumer testing by Consumers Union confirms the widely held perception that people struggle to understand their health insurance policies. This information gap has grave consequences for consumers and for the success of most health reform approaches. Indeed, improving consumers’ ability to shop in the health insurance marketplace is an area of great untapped potential. But realizing this potential will require a multilayered policy approach. It will require greater standardization of products in the marketplace, along with better tools for communicating health plan features to consumers. Both strategies will require an in-depth understanding of how consumers shop for coverage and the barriers they face. Rigorous consumer testing provides the nuanced information that can lead to measurable improvements in consumer understanding. This brief highlights the findings from three consumer testing studies. These consolidated results provide a strong foundation for regulatory and legislative efforts to enact policies and provide tools that improve consumers’ understanding of health insurance, as well as health plans’ own efforts to improve customer communications.