Then there’s the matter of how disclosures should be made, which deserved explanation. The disclosure rule is complicated, and consumers are not treated equally. Employers and sellers can make disclosures electronically for employees already enrolled in group health plans, for employees who are not already enrolled in group health plans, and for individuals who are “purchasing” insurance. These employees are also supposed to receive an e-mail or a postcard advising them they can ask for a paper copy. But for individuals who are simply “shopping” for coverage, sellers can post disclosures on healthcare.gov. In other words, a paper copy simply supplied by the seller or employer is not readily available. Wait, there’s more. Those currently enrolled in a group health plan must consent to electronic disclosure in most circumstances.
The fact is consumers will have to make some calls to learn the premium, may have to request paper copies (or investigate some website) if they want to lay the offerings side by side, and will still have to read the fine print, although the AP told readers there would be “no fine print.” This adds up to a complicated shopping experience, despite some improvement in clarifying and standardizing insurance terms.
What was needed from the media was analysis and sharp questioning about what these new disclosures would really mean for consumers in terms of ease of use and availability during the shopping process. We know consumers hate shopping for insurance, and take shortcuts to finish the task as fast as they can. But instead of helping them through this dreaded chore, the media gave the Department of Health and Human Services a free pass.