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Life Health > Health Insurance > Health Insurance

On the Third Hand: Old World 1.5

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Originally, I was going to call this blog entry “Venezuela” and talk about how the killer practical problem with government intervention in markets is that it’s even easier for government agencies to pretend bad is good than it is for private companies.

Yes, a private company can try to hide inflation by reducing the weight of cereal you get in a box, or by reducing the actuarial value you get from a health insurance plan with complicated coinsurance changes that only the consulting actuary could love. 

But Venezuela can lie about the value of the government programs it’s giving you — then shut down the newspapers and most of the Internet to keep you from discussing the changes.

Then eHealth (Nasdaq:EHTH) started publishing a nifty new Daily Health Insurance Price Index and got at the issue of health care market financial transparency in a different way. 

EHealth actually runs big private health insurance “exchanges,” or sales websites, including It’s trying to show people what’s going on with the list price for all of the private individual and family health plans it sells, including the “qualified health plans” (QHPs) sold outside the exchange system, and ordinary major medical plans sold off-exchange.

The index is not a full and complete answer.

What I personally really want is some kind of index that shows what’s going on with all non-exchange plans, not just the ones sells.

Many people complain about the chaotic state of the QHP activity data coming from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and many state-based exchanges. Well, sure. But where, pray tell, is the free, publicly accessible, real-time-ish paid enrollment (or plan selection) data for the ordinary commercial health insurance plans sold outside the public exchange system?

Maybe you readers out there in professional broker land get some kind of sales tracking service, but no one has pitched that service to me. I can’t prove that any health insurer in America got any consumer to select any individual non-exchange plan in January, let alone whether any of those consumers have paid their premiums.

But eHealth is providing a chart that shows what individuals and families are expecting to pay for coverage purchased through its system.

EHealth can sell both QHPs and non-exchange products, and it does not distinguish between the two types of coverage in the index.

Most of the PPACA coverage rules that apply to QHPs also apply to non-exchange products, but issuers of the non-exchange products don’t have to comply with the same exchange plan design standardization rules and other standardization rules.

The index chart shows that individuals have been paying about $275 per month for coverage this year, or about 39 percent more than they were paying, on average, in 2013. Families are paying about $660 per month, or 56 percent more than they were paying a year earlier.

On the one hand: The index may not be a perfect indication of what’s going on in either PPACA World plans or Old World plans.

On the other hand: Whatever happens with the PPACA exchanges and the PPACA World plans — it’s interesting to see eHealth try to apply some public exchange-style transparency to the Old War health insurance market.

On the third hand: One thing to keep in mind is that, for the country as a whole, and even, really, for PPACA supporters, if they can calm down enough to think clearly about the topic, the point of PPACA isn’t for PPACA or the exchanges or the exchange plans to work well. The point is for the U.S. health finance system to work better.

Maybe one of the lessons of PPACA World, so far, is (aside from: if you work in PPACA World, try to get your money up front): health insurance enrollment data is interesting, and potentially useful.

It would be great, if five years from now, the players in the Old World health insurance market offer a souped-up version of the kinds of health insurance activity information programs that eHealth and some state-based exchanges are creating. 

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