News Release - Standardizing Health Insurance Offerings Key to National and State Health Reform Efforts

For Immediate Release –

November 10, 2009

Media contact: Mark Marchand – (518) 443-5283 / marchanm@rockinst.org

Standardizing Health Insurance Offerings Key to National and State Health Reform Efforts,
New Rockefeller Institute Report Recommends

New Research — Funded by New York State Health Foundation — Proposes Simple Methods to Help Consumers Understand Choices

Albany, N.Y. — New research and the experience from some state health reform efforts suggest that a key to helping consumers understand their choices is standardizing health insurance options, according to a new report issued by the Rockefeller Institute of Government today.

The report — “Gold, Silver, and Bronze: The Important Role of Product Standardization in Health Insurance Reform” — analyzed the experiences of three states in an effort to develop ways to aid consumers as they face an array of confusing choices. The paper, which was funded by the New York State Health Foundation, concluded that standardizing health insurance plans would provide a basic floor of benefits and help consumers compare plans, leading to rational choices that best suit their needs.

“Most consumers don’t have the time or knowledge to compare health plans effectively,” said Courtney Burke, report co-author and director of the Rockefeller Institute’s Health Policy Research Center. “Making coverage plans more comparable can enhance consumer choice and competition, which in turn can make insurance more affordable.

“If product standardization is done in ways that are transparent, responsive to demand, and relatively understandable, consumers can purchase products they need and insurers are forced to compete on other plan features such as price of the products, customer service, or provider networks,” Burke added. “If consumers cannot make clear comparisons regarding the value of the plans — such as what medical conditions and services are covered under each plan — then they have a difficult task comparing plans and making rational choices.”

Burke, along with researcher Dina Belloff from Rutgers University’s Center for State Health Policy, analyzed the experiences of Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey since all three have experience in standardizing health insurance products for small groups — and, in Massachusetts’ case, individuals. Massachusetts, for example, has developed a tiered plan approach, under which health plans are categorized as gold, silver, bronze and young adult plans. The approach to classification is relatively simple: gold plans, for example, are generally worth more and might have low deductibles, while a bronze plan might have a higher deductible.

“The fact that insurance reform legislation emerging from Congress closely mirrors Massachusetts’ use of the ‘gold, silver, bronze, and young adult plan’ is no accident,” Burke said. “Using such labels for standardized products is more intuitive and presumably easier for consumers to understand. For example, most consumers won’t know details such as whether one plan allows up to three office visits per year before they must pay for the office visit or whether it allows four, and whether the visits will count toward the annual deductible amount or not. Rather, consumers are likely to know and make a decision based on whether they are likely to use more or fewer benefits — making a gold, silver, bronze system easier to navigate.”

For a full copy of the report and the three state case studies, visit www.rockinst.org.

The research was funded by the New York State Health Foundation. For more information about the Foundation, visit: www.nyshealthfoundation.org.

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About the Rockefeller Institute of Government

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, at the University at Albany, is the public policy research arm of the State University of New York. The Institute conducts fiscal and programmatic research on American state and local governments. Journalists can find useful information on the Newsroom page of the Web site, www.rockinst.org.

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