Consumers also have a hard time estimating their risk levels. Since it’s not easy to predict what ailments you’ll get, you won’t know whether a policy is a good financial deal until you get sick. Powers says that the Connector may consider adding some information about quality of care that would be specific to the insurer, not a particular policy.
For some stakeholders, the Connector hasn’t brought as much new business as was expected. Blue Cross Blue Shield has captured about one-third of the new business; Harvard Pilgrim about one-quarter. Harvard Pilgrim’s chief operating officer Bruce Bullen says “enrollment is far less than people anticipated. We thought it would be good because of the flexibility and a leveling of the playing field.” Bullen said the hope was that there would be more flexible products that “would involve a lot of cost sharing and higher copays and deductibles.” Bullen identifies the tension inherent in the Massachusetts Connector and the state’s reliance on a private, insurance-based system. Cheaper policies may be easier to sell, but increased cost sharing can leave policyholders holding the money bag when illness strikes. Finding that balance is tricky and controversial.
In January, the Connector plans to offer more high deductible health plans that are compatible with health savings accounts, in an effort to attract new customers. This year it has a $1.5 million contract with Weber Shandwick, a leading PR and communications firm, for broad-based outreach to young adults, people who’ve lost their jobs and insurance, the self employed, and early retirees. As part of the effort, the Connector is soliciting testimonials from residents satisfied with their Connector coverage. “Tell us why you are happy to have health insurance,” the Web site says. “If you have a compelling story, you may soon find yourself in Fenway Park!” The best storyteller wins two tickets to a Red Sox game.
There’s another story to be told, and that’s the story of the Connector—its pros, cons, its ability to expand coverage, and its limitations. It’s an important story for the press because all the bills floating around Congress call for a similar Connector arrangement. If that story is told, the winners will be the American people, who need to know just what may be in store for them.