Easing health insurance shopping

    As more workers are not getting health insurance from their employers, people may choose to shop for it on their own.

    Food producers are required to put basic information about their products in an easy-to-understand format. Several members of congress are proposing to require similar labeling for health insurance.

    Listen:

    [audio:090522kglabeling.mp3]

    President Barack Obama says he would like to see every person covered by health insurance. Until that time comes, Congress is taking baby steps by proposing ways to help people shop for their own health insurance. Democratic Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz and several other representatives have introduced bills along those lines.

    Schwartz: We are determined to make sure that we change some of the rules and that includes making sure that you can’t exclude pre-existing conditions and making sure that consumers know what they’re buying.

    The number of workers without health insurance has increased over the last decade, forcing people to go without or try and buy it on their own. But Schwartz says shopping around for insurance is no easy task.

    Schwartz: A plan might say hospitalization, it might mean one thing in one plan and something else in another plan. That’s what we’re trying to address. To make sure that when you read catastrophic coverage you know what it means. It means the same thing whenever you’re buying a plan.

    Schwartz and others have introduced a bill to standardize language among insurers and require a simple benefits chart with every plan, much like nutritional information on a cereal box.

    Robert Zirkelbach is the spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade organization for health insurers.

    Zirkelbach: We support the goal of this legislation which is to provide better access to information for consumers. We’re sill taking a close look at the specifics of it to see how it will work.

    In particular, Zirkelbach is interested in whether it will add any more costs to the system. According to his group, an average individual health insurance plan cost $2,600 in 2007.

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