Dec 3, 2019

People hate shopping for health insurance

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Americans rarely switch to new health plans when the annual insurance-shopping season comes around, even if they could have gotten a better deal.

The bottom line: People loathe shopping for health plans, and many are bad at it, for one major reason: "It's just too hard," Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me last year.

Reality check: During any insurance program's annual enrollment period, most people end up staying with the status quo, if it's an option, instead of picking a new plan.

  • Fewer than one out of 10 seniors voluntarily switch from one private Medicare Advantage plan to another, according to new research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
  • The same holds true for Medicare's private prescription drug plans.
  • Most employers don't usually change insurance carriers, often out of fear of angering workers, and keep plan options limited.
  • Employees, after several reminders from HR, usually default to what they had.
  • Fewer than half of people in the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces actively re-enroll in new plans, even though the market was designed for comparison shopping.
  • Medicaid enrollees in some states have no say in the private plans they get.

Between the lines: Buying health insurance — a $20,000 decision for the average family — is more complicated than buying furniture.

  • With consumer products, you pretty much know what you're getting. With health insurance, you're making an educated guess of how much health care you'll use, hoping that you'll need none of it.
  • Health insurance terms and policies also are confusing, which turns people off from the shopping process.

The big picture: Shopping for insurance is difficult enough for most people. Shopping for actual doctors, tests and services is even more difficult and less widespread, and likely won't change if prices are unlocked.

Go deeper

Moderate muscle rises against Dems’ 2020 left

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The early boom for 2020 Democrats' left turn is yielding to moderate muscle as Elizabeth Warren falls, Joe Biden persists and Pete Buttigieg rises.

  • What's happening: Poll after poll shows voters like the idea of Medicare for All. But the second you tell them about costs and tradeoffs, they turn on it.
  • Why it matters: A harsh spotlight on Warren's specifics collided with Mike Bloomberg's massive spending on a moderate message, as well as rising angst among donors and investors about risks of Warren-Sanders socialism.
Go deeperArrowNov 29, 2019

Health care spending grew again in 2018 thanks to higher prices

Data: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' Office of the Actuary; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans spent $3.65 trillion on health care in 2018 — 4.6% more than the year before. That growth also was higher than the 4.2% rate from 2017, according to revised figures from independent federal actuaries.

Between the lines: U.S. health care spending climbed again not because people went to the doctor or hospital more frequently, but because the industry charged higher prices. And private health insurers didn't do a particularly good job negotiating lower rates.

Go deeperArrowDec 6, 2019

The Affordable Care Act's free health plans

Roughly 4.7 million people who have no health insurance could get coverage next year without paying a dime for the monthly premium, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

Why it matters: If you make less than $50,000 as an individual or $103,000 as a family of four — and you can't get health insurance through your job or Medicaid — you could get coverage for free.

Go deeperArrowDec 11, 2019