Data: How 1,500 Americans feel about buying health insurance


Paul SisolakBlog author Paul SisolakAs a personal finance journalist, Paul specializes in financial literacy, loans, credit scoring and the art of negotiation. He's covered some of the nation's most inspiring financial success stories for national publications including CNN, and US News & World Report and has a passion for helping Americans overcome their debt.

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So you're sitting around with your friends, and the topic of health insurance comes up (as it does). That's when you all start saying what you really feel: "Obama has ruined it all," "It makes me want to go back to Canada," "I’d rather put hot needles in my eye," "It’s confusing and time consuming." And then, of course, there's that one person who says, "Actually, I'm kinda okay with it."If this doesn't sound like your friends, maybe you're not just hanging out with the right people, because those are real quotes from real people.

We should know; we spoke to them personally, and most people didn’t find the process of obtaining a new health insurance plan as much fun as shopping for a new pair of shoes. What’s behind the harsh feelings over shopping for health insurance? More than 100,000 Americans signed up for Obamacare this past November after Election Day, and 11.5 million people total have signed up on the marketplace so far during the current open enrollment season. But -- no surprise here -- there’s indication that the drove of new health insurance plans wasn’t because of a more enlightened health insurance understanding, but in reaction to Donald Trump’s presidential win, whose staunch, strident opposition to Obamacare may have sent some consumers scrambling for health coverage.Part of our health insurance literacy survey last year was gauging how familiar people are with key industry terms, like deductible or copay. While just a small percentage knew exactly what they meant, we discovered something we didn’t intentionally seek out: a majority of the 2,000 respondents from all 10 cities polled in the study expressed some level of dissatisfaction over the process of finding and purchasing the right healthcare plan.As part of our survey, we asked what one word came to mind when they thought about the process of shopping for health insurance. Here’s what we found:

PG Health Insurance Literacy Verbatim Commentary@2x (1) (1)

So it still stands to reason that the survey comments we received reflect a discontent that may rest squarely on the shoulders of none other than the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Why is shopping for health insurance so incomprehensible and frustrating? Why is it poised as an affordable option for comprehensive health care, but seems like anything but? Communication issues have dominated the open health insurance marketplace since it went live in 2013, and one could argue that it’s never been a seamless, transparent process since the ACA itself was signed into law in 2010.When you’re in pain, you go to the doctor and use your health insurance to pay for it. But what about when the search for health insurance causes enough grief on its own? The survey feedback we received tells us how people feel about finding insurance -- but what are some of the symptoms? Now that open enrollment on the healthcare marketplace lasts for just a couple of weeks (deadline reminder: January 31 at midnight sharp local time), let’s take a look at some of the major health insurance pain points, and how we -- all of us here at PolicyGenius -- can help heal them.

Pain point #1: Mandatory health insurance

Obamacare makes health insurance mandatory for everyone and allows you to stay on your parents’ policy until you turn 26 years old. Failure to find coverage by then triggers a tax penalty of either $695 ($347.50 for minors) or 2.5 percent of one’s household income, whichever is higher. This ACA mandate was enacted three years ago in January 2014, but still leaves many Americans unclear if health insurance is actually a requirement or an option. (A recent survey by Kaiser Health revealed that at least one-quarter of people don’t think the penalty applies to them personally.)If you’re fast approaching 26 years old and you can’t afford those tax penalties, there’s no way to turn back the clock to pre-penalty after January 31 unless you have a special enrollment period. But there is a way to find health insurance easily without scrambling or settling for the first policy you can find. By logging onto our health insurance app and answering a few basic questions about yourself, we’ll help match you up with several tailored plan options that you can compare side by side, and focus on the health plan benefits that are most important to you, not the insurer. Since we carry all on- and off-exchange plans, and don’t partner with a single carrier, we’re in the best position to give you an unbiased look at your top options.

Pain point #2: Increasing premium costs

"Health insurance, you're too costly." -- one survey takerDifferent factors can influence your health insurance costs on the open market, like your age, your location, your income, the type of plan you choose, and other at-risk behaviors that can drive up premiums, like tobacco usage. Even still, most people are prone to feeling like their rates are higher than everyone else’s. If it’s any consolation, premiums are rising everywhere, for everyone. Rates were lower than expected when Obamacare launched, and lawmakers failed to anticipate that enrollment wouldn’t be as robust as they’d thought -- as of the end of 2016, only 10.4 million out of 22 million people expected to enroll actually have.Another explanation is that the ACA mandate (see above) implies that it’s cheaper to remain uninsured and pay the mandate than it is to buy health insurance. On that note, Brian Rooney, editor of The Rooney Report, expresses one very valid sentiment: "The only way ‘affordable’ healthcare is really affordable is to buy the cheapest possible plan and never need a doctor."Just because the open marketplace is where you can find health insurance doesn’t mean that’s where you have to look -- and wishing away rising premiums won’t do any good. And the solution is remarkably simpler than you’d think: check with us first. We’ve simplified our health insurance search process so you can compare policies and packages for the most affordable plan, but you’ll have guidance, step by step, without having to go it alone.

Pain point #3: Unclear deadlines

The December 2015 Kaiser Health poll indicated that 65 percent of respondents had no idea when the open enrollment deadline was. According to the study, 20 percent of people thought the deadline was at the end of the year, 6 percent believed it had already passed, and 3 percent assumed another date during the year was correct. You’ll still have until January 31 to enroll in or change a health plan for 2017.

Pain point #4: Varying tax credits and subsidies

Consumers unaware of the tax penalty for not having health insurance may be further befuddled that they may also qualify for a tax credit if they sign up for a marketplace plan (and if you earn 100 to 400 percent below the poverty line). You can receive this through a standard tax credit, or in a cost-sharing reduction, both designed to lower your expenses by offsetting the increase in premium rates. Eligibility for these subsidies depends on one’s household income -- but with financial assistance, an estimated 72 percent of Americans may be able to secure a health insurance plan through the open marketplace for $75, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.We’ve built a subsidies calculator into our health insurance app, so it we’ll let you know if you qualify for any tax breaks, credits, subsidies, savings or otherwise. And we won’t take up all day asking for your life story, either; we actually make sure that discount checks are instantaneous, so you’ll know right away if you qualify.

Pain point #5: Sketchy communication, technical glitches

Poor communication was a hot button issue among survey respondents."I really don't like dealing with insurance issues," said one person. "It seems like no one can give me a straight answer, and most of the representatives seem to contradict each other."No amount of #GotInsurance campaigns or #GetTalking hashtags from a very unhip U.S. Department of Health seem enough to get people to better understand or warm up to Obamacare -- some polls suggest that many people can’t tell the difference between Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act, not realizing they’re one in the same. Then there are those who find issue with navigating and encountering application problems and a lack of real-life customer service to turn to for help. (2013 did the site no favors when it shut down for several weeks, right during open enrollment.) On top of that, only 38 out of 50 states are part of the federal health reform program, with some states having come and gone, and others part of a state exchange.One of our mottos is "Experts when you need them. Technology when you don’t." And we pride ourselves on good communication. Remember the survey we told you about? We’re happy to explain terms like copay, out-of-pocket maximum and deductible to you, since knowing them is important to finding the right policy. A little understanding can go a long way.

Pain point #6: Flip-flopping standards, piecemeal inclusions

To make matters worse, the government keeps changing the rulebook and adding new regulations as it goes, making the experience daunting for anyone entering the game. In 2010, for example, anyone with a "grandfathered" (i.e. pre-existing) health insurance plan was allowed to keep the plan in place. As of this month, "grandmothered" plans, those signed on after the ACA took effect, are deemed illegal. Then there are future plans to phase out the Medicare Part D coverage gap (previously, seniors qualified for a $250 rebate), and to better qualify all health insurance policies for preventive care without copays -- provided incoming President Trump doesn’t repeal the whole thing. That’s not counting the multiple times the U.S. Supreme Court toyed with the notion that the ACA is actually unconstitutional.Clear your mind of the jargon and the (arguably) ever-changing ACA guidelines; the big pain point here is the major headache you may be feeling trying to keep up with governmental standards. We use plain English throughout our health insurance app and can connect you with every health insurance plan -- on an off market -- with the transparency you deserve without jumping through hoops or searching for elusive information that we aim to make clear.

Removing confusion from health coverage

Following up on participating in our survey, over 200(!) respondents described shopping for health insurance as a "tedious" experience. Here’s what one had to say:"It's like a puzzle trying to figure out which insurance best fits my my financial situation and future health status."Looking for health insurance is an important financial and health decision -- nobody should pick and settle for the first offer they find. We’re naturally going to plug PolicyGenius as your go-to resource, but it’s not only because it’s our site -- but because we truly make an effort to take some of the pain out of shopping for the right coverage.In fact, we don’t take the notion of "Cast the widest net" and "Skip the insurance jargon" lightly. Our tools and resources cross-check the best available coverage options according to what your medical needs call for (not the government). Compare them visually side by side, to see how plans -- Obamacare and private -- stack up, discounts and all, and if you have any questions, run them by one of our live experts, and get the coverage you need without putting your health at risk.

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Blog author Paul Sisolak

As a personal finance journalist, Paul specializes in financial literacy, loans, credit scoring and the art of negotiation. He's covered some of the nation's most inspiring financial success stories for national publications including CNN, and US News & World Report and has a passion for helping Americans overcome their debt.

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