The word “exchange” is mentioned in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) 247 times. And various administration officials from the president to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have described the exchanges as places where you’ll be able to buy health insurance as easily as purchasing an airline ticket on Travelocity or ORBITZ. For the past two years I have done my best to debunk this myth. Purchasing health insurance is a lot different than buying an airline ticket. But the government just doesn’t seem to get it.
While Julie Bataille, director of the CMS Office of Communications, is concerned that the word “exchange” may give consumers the idea that they have to swap something, she hints at “marketplace” as a possible alternative. Brenda Cude, a professor of economics at the University of Georgia and a consumer representative for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners worries that “marketplace” presents the health insurance exchange as a shopping website and will lead people to buy health insurance based on price alone.
Ms. Cude comments regarding the use of the word “exchange” in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, “I don’t believe that Congress is any kind of expert on how to communicate with consumers.” And to quote comedian Ron White, “That’s a handy little piece of information to have, right there.”
Congress and the government aren’t experts on how to communicate with consumers. But 2,700 pages of PPACA legislation which states “the Secretary Shall” over 1,000 times certainly gives the government the authority to make decisions like they are experts on health insurance.
Isn’t it fascinating that the very people in charge of this monster (PPACA) have never worked at an insurance carrier, have never been a broker and sold one product and have never processed one claim for payment! Yet, they are going to tell the whole country how, when and where to buy health insurance, and then they are going to tell us what to buy.
Maybe, just maybe, folks are starting to get the message that this isn’t as easy as the government says it is and that the independent agent and broker represents the most effective method of presenting products to clients, explaining their value and differences and finding a health insurance policy that fits each consumer’s budget and needs.
You see, buying health insurance really isn’t as easy as buying that airline ticket as illustrated by Susan Jaffe’s article below.
From Kaiser Health News, May 10, 2012
What’s In A Name: Health Exchanges, Marketplaces … Or Swap Meets
By Susan Jaffe
If a Medicare staff recommendation is approved, health insurance exchanges may be up for a rebranding.
Because, Medicare officials say, consumers understand words like “marketplace” better.
“We are recommending not using the word ‘exchange’” in enrollment materials, Julie Bataille, director of the CMS Office of Communications, said last week at a meeting of outreach advisers. And while she didn’t mention the preferred substitute, she dropped hints.
“Words like ‘marketplace’ resonate much more with the consumer and also tend to be something that is all inclusive,” she added.
Later, during a break in the meeting, Bataille mentioned that “exchange” can have a number of different meanings to consumers, including the idea that they may have to swap something.
The health law requires the federal government to establish health insurance exchanges in states that don’t create their own. They are often described as an online marketplace similar to Travelocity.com or Amazon.com, where consumers will be able to search for insurance policies that fit selected criteria.
Enrollment information will be available in the fall of 2013 and the exchanges — or whatever they may be called — are to begin operations in 2014, unless the Supreme Court overturns the law.
The word “exchange” appears 247 times in the health care law and “marketplace” not once, according to a Kaiser Health News text search. But that doesn’t mean officials are obligated to use it, said Brenda Cude, a professor of consumer economics at the University of Georgia, and a consumer representative for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
“I don’t believe that Congress is any kind of expert on how to communicate with consumers,” she said.
But “marketplace” may not be a fool-proof alternative, said Cude. She worries that comparing a health insurance exchange to a shopping website encourages the notion that the lowest price policy is the best choice. That may be true when looking for a commodity like a cheap airfare to a single destination, but not for health policies offering different benefits, she said.
Bataille said the Medicare staff’s advice to avoid the term “exchange” is supported by external research and the agency’s focus group testing this year in Cleveland, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia and Phoenix. Sessions were also conducted in Spanish in Houston and New York.
CMS “routinely” tests its materials and websites with consumers “to make sure we are serving our beneficiaries as well as possible,” Bataille said in an email. “So we see our work on the exchanges as an extension of that.”
Bataille said CMS also would seek public comment on the enrollment materials before making a final decision on whether to use the word “exchange.”