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Health insurance exchanges not user-friendly, study findings suggest

By Maryalene LaPonsie on January 6th, 2014

In theory, Americans should be able to log-on to government exchanges, input their information, compare health insurance quotes and make a purchase all on their own. However, in reality, most of those shopping for medical insurance in the virtual marketplaces have needed help to understand their choices and make a purchase.

That is one finding of a survey conducted by LIMRA, an insurance and financial industry organization. In addition, the report revealed more than one in four uninsured individuals have no plans whatsoever to shop on the government exchanges, despite the fact the online marketplaces were specifically intended to provide these individuals access to affordable health insurance.

Six in 10 consumers need help buying health insurance

The health insurance exchanges have been riddled with technical difficulties since their launch in October. While intended to be online marketplaces where consumers could browse and purchase medical insurance on their own, 60 percent of those using the exchanges have sought help.

What's more, nearly half of those who have not yet shopped on the exchanges but think they will have also expressed concern they will need help. Overall, 59 percent of Americans say they anticipate needing assistance to find affordable health insurance.

LIMRA notes those who already have health insurance are more likely to report needing help buying a new plan. This may be, in part, because those with current health insurance coverage may be more likely to understand the complexity of plans.

"In addition, uninsured individuals, who often are the least knowledgeable about how health insurance works -- including such cost considerations as deductible and plan coverage -- may not recognize how much help they may need," said Yuliya Babushkina, senior analyst with LIMRA, in a written statement.

One quarter of uninsured say no thanks to exchanges

Some consumers aren't planning to ask for help making a purchase on the exchanges. That's because they don't even plan to go on them to find medical insurance. LIMRA found more than 25 percent of the uninsured individuals it polled said they didn't plan to buy coverage on an exchange.

"Our study found that more than a quarter of the targeted market - uninsured consumers - said they did not plan to shop at the exchanges, citing cost as the number one reason," said Babushkina.

In addition to the cost, lack of knowledge and access to medical insurance elsewhere were also noted as reasons uninsured individuals don't plan to shop on the exchanges.

Regardless of where they get insurance, virtually all residents will need to have health insurance coverage in 2014. Those who fail to sign up may be subject to financial penalties at tax time.

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