Detroit Health News Examiner

Tool to compare health plans tested with consumers

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For instance, the federal website that serves Illinois and 35 other states has no central directory to easily show which plans include which doctors in their networks. What’s more, it’s nearly impossible to compare the out-of-pocket costs of different policies. Picking the wrong plan could mean paying extra in some cases, up to thousands of dollars a year more. A nonprofit group is offering a free online tool that provides more information, with the goal of turning the new insurance exchanges into truly functional competitive markets. uses actuarial data to estimate total annual costs for each plan tailored to a consumer’s profile. It offers a doctor directory so people can see immediately which plans include their favorite doctors in their network. And it includes a five-star scoring system based on an independent group’s quality ratings of health plans. So far, it’s being tested only in Illinois, but the software may someday be used to improve the official exchanges run by states and the federal government. As envisioned, the exchanges were supposed to help keep health care costs in check as insurers competed for the business of informed customers. But the government sites aren’t giving consumers the data they need to make the best choices, said Robert Krughoff, president of Consumers’ Checkbook, the nonprofit group that developed the tool and would like to persuade governments to use its features. “It’s much too complicated for people and they end up with the wrong answers,” Krughoff said. Consumers’ Checkbook has a track record: More than 50 federal agencies subscribe to the group’s online guide for employees choosing health plans available to them. John and Alfiya Lambert recently used the new tool to choose a health plan in Illinois.

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