A dispatch from the private health insurance market

Since most people in the US with insurance are covered under group plans and have absolutely no idea how bad the individual market actually is, I thought I would offer a brief view since I’m dealing with it at the moment.

I recently went onto the individual health plan market after spending over a decade going through the farce of annual plan selection for my company. During the group plan years, the standard process was that the premiums for whatever plan we were currently using would be slated to climb by 15-20% at the renewal, necessitating a round of compromises in coverage to control costs and keep the increase to under 10%.

When I was finally ready to go onto the individual market, I figured this experience would be useful. I was wrong, but not for the reason you might think. I now live in New Jersey, which due to the state-by-state regulation of insurance is an entirely different market, though my doctor (and the rest of Manhattan) are just on the other side of the Hudson. The best approach seemed to be eHealthInsurance, who  claim to have the most comprehensive list of policies. I selected one, and after confirming in two separate conversations with my charming sales representative that my NYC doctor was accessible through the plan, signed up.

This turned out to be wrong. At which point eHealthInsurance claimed they had no way of knowing this was not true and were only acting on the basis of information provided by Blue Cross of New Jersey, who in turn claimed that the information they provided on the broker’s computer screen (which I never saw, of course) included a disclaimer that they were not responsible for accuracy of the information therein.

Long story short, it is now one year of $600 monthly premiums later, and during that time I think I have used the insurance once.

My new premium for 2012? $734 monthly.

The moral of the story is that without a public option and/or meaningful controls on these companies and/or national regulation, my “freedom” to choose a plan is like libertarianism at its worst – a veneer of private-sector “choice” over a massively asymmetrical transaction.

Also, too, beware eHealthInsurance.

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