As the health care debate has played out across the country over the past few years, Colorado has often shown itself to be ahead of the game in terms of protecting consumers as well as fostering a robustly competitive health insurance market for individuals and small businesses. This morning I read a news release from Health and Human Services noting that starting in 2012, health insurers will have to start providing standardized, easy-to-understand summaries of the coverage and benefits that their policies provide, along with a standardized glossary of common terms (things like “coinsurance” and “deductible” for example).
The Colorado Health Plan Description Form isn’t exactly the same as the forms that HHS will require carriers to make available next year, but it’s similar in many ways, and carriers in Colorado have been issuing these standardized plan summaries for nearly 14 years. As well as outlining the coverage provided, the new forms will include “coverage examples” that will show potential customers how the plan would cover three common medical scenarios: breast cancer, maternity care, and diabetes. That’s a nice addition, and something that isn’t currently included in the Colorado Plan Description Forms. But for more than a decade, people shopping for health insurance in Colorado have been able to compare “apples to apples” by looking at the CPDF for each policy that they are considering. The forms are standardized, with the same information appearing in the same order for all policies, making it easy to see how various policies stack up against each other. The CPDF is much different from the marketing brochures that each company creates. The marketing brochures – complete with pictures of happy families, of course – tend to play up the strong points of the policy in question, while downplaying (or skipping entirely) the not-so-great aspects of the policy. The CPDF, on the other hand, isn’t flashy at all. But it lays out the specifics of the policy in a very straight-forward manner, with no marketing spins at all. And apparently Colorado has been years ahead of its time, since standardized policy descriptions are only becoming the norm on a national level in 2012.
We’ve had a comprehensive glossary of health insurance terminology on our website for years. Clients – especially those who are used to having group health insurance and are new to shopping for their own coverage – often tell us that they find health insurance jargon to be confusing, and we’ve found that the glossary is a helpful tool to go along with the quotes and plan outlines that we provide for our clients. A standardized glossary provided to everyone who is shopping for health insurance will go a long way towards making policy descriptions easier to understand. It won’t replace having a licensed broker who can talk a client through the various plans that are available, but it’s a step in the right direction.