Visit places of enrollment. Here you can observe over several days, if you can, how navigators and assisters actually counsel shoppers. It’s the old journalistic skill of observation we’re talking about here. I suspect there will be wide variation in the quality of the counseling, but to separate the sheep from goats, you have to know what’s good advice and what’s not. A few years ago, I received a note from a Medicare counselor in Ohio urging me to tell reporters to visit their local insurance counseling offices, which help Medicare beneficiaries through the thicket of choices they must face every year. Listen to what seniors must sort through to make a choice, she said. Reporters will get an earful. It will be a similar situation for the new buyers coming into the exchanges, and the counselor’s advice is more relevant than ever.

Put yourself in the shoes of a shopper. Steve Koff, Washington bureau chief for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, sniffed out the insurance spin from the Ohio insurance director by doing just that. “I’ve covered enough of this stuff to know if you’re looking at a policy with a really, really low premium, you have to question what it is.” In other words, you get what you pay for. And that, dear colleagues, is a good place to start your reporting on the state insurance exchanges.

Follow @USProjectCJR for more posts from Trudy Lieberman and the rest of the United States Project team, including our work on healthcare issues and public health at The Second Opinion. And for Trudy’s resource guide to covering the ins and outs of buying insurance on the state exchanges, see Open Wide, from CJR’s new July/August issue.

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Open Wide

Open wide: the fine print

Exchange Watch: Ohio insurance redux

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Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.