Getting Good Health Insurance

Finding a good health-insurance plan is one of the most important decisions you can make. And it's just gotten a lot easier.

Insurers are now required to use a new form that describes in plain English deductibles, co-pays, and other costs. Consumer Reports' just-released analysis of almost a thousand health care plans can also help you make better choices.

When Kate Evans was freelancing, she says trying to sort through health-insurance choices was a nightmare.

Evans says, "The options weren't really straightforward, and it was very confusing as to what you really got. Pages of information that just didn't make sense."

Consumer Reports analyzed 984 private, Medicare, and Medicaid health-insurance plans ranked by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, or NCQA, a nonprofit accreditation organization.

Nancy Metcalf of Consumer Reports says, "The rankings take a number of factors into consideration, including customer satisfaction and how good a job the plan does on treatment and prevention."

On the plus side-the quality of care has improved. But Consumer Reports says there are troubling trends as well.

Metcalf says, "There are treatments and tests that have been shown not to be helpful, yet research shows many are still being overused. That's not only a waste of money, but you could end up getting treatments that are unnecessary, and sometimes even dangerous."

Turns out the providers of the top ten private plans are all nonprofits.

Metcalf says, "That means they don't have to worry about turning a profit for investors, only about pleasing their customers."

In the rankings, big name for-profit companies, UnitedHealthcare, Aetna, and Humana-had more private plans at the bottom than at the top.

When it comes to shopping for insurance, a new form will make the process much easier.

Metcalf says, "For the first time, every plan will have a form that looks exactly the same, which will make it much easier to compare them side by side."

So people will have a much easier time comparing different policies.

A note about the rankings Consumer Reports used in this analysis-insurance company plans that are accredited by the NCQA are allotted a certain number of points. Not all insurance plans are accredited-and some are accredited by another organization.

There is a fee involved for any accreditation.

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