AskBlue does its best to explain health insurance and Obamacare

Polls show that few people understand health insurance or the Affordable Care Act. That’s especially so for those who have the most to gain from Obamacare: people who are uninsured and haven’t had health insurance for a while. It doesn’t help that so much of the political debate and news coverage is about the battle over Obamacare rather than education about how it works.

Amidst all the noise, the BlueCross BlueShield Association has posted a new website, AskBlue to try to explain insurance in lay terms, educate the public on the impact of Obamacare, and point users to Blues plans in their area to buy insurance. All of this is happening in the run-up to the scheduled October opening of the health insurance marketplaces.

I had a look at the site. It does a good job of explaining “What Do I Get? What Do I Pay? How Do I Choose?” But let’s face it, the concepts are hard enough for even a well-educated consumer to understand. For example:

  • Premiums versus out-of-pocket costs. The differences between copays, deductibles, coinsurance and how they interact with one another and with out-of-pocket maximums
  • Types of plans: PPOs v. HDHPS v. HMOs, and the hybrid models like POS plans
  • “Metal” levels: Bronze, Gold, Silver, Platinum that are independent of the types of plans
  • Two terms for the new insurance shopping sites: “marketplaces” and “exchanges”

Despite all these topics, the site barely skims the surface on topics that matter such as: choosing a doctor, navigating the delivery system, evidence based care, pharmacy benefits, FSAs, patient portals.

Bottom line: Can we really expect people to understand all of this and act on it in an intelligent manner?

The site is a solid resource for those seeking to understand more. But all the complexities of the commercial insurance world will continue to make it pretty hard for most people to optimize their use of benefits, and will keep administrative costs high.

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