Interest in health insurance exchanges is up, new study shows

Nearly 75 percent of poll respondents indicate that they'll shop for coverage using a state exchange.

The introduction of health insurance exchanges is generating interest among health plan members who purchase insurance directly, as well as those who have high deductibles and/or lower levels of overall satisfaction, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2013 Member Health Plan Study released today.

Now in its seventh year, the study measures satisfaction among members of 136 health plans in 17 regions throughout the United States by examining seven key factors: coverage and benefits; provider choice; information and communication; claims processing; statements; customer service; and approval process. In 2013, overall member satisfaction averages 701 (on a 1,000-point scale), compared with 702 in 2012, according to a news release issues by J.D. Power.

Nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of members who purchase insurance on their own instead of through their employer say they "definitely will" or "probably will" shop for coverage using a state exchange, if available, the study showed. The new insurance purchasing method intends to make it easier for members to access insurance and, ideally, at more competitive rates. The desire to reduce costs may also attract all types of members to the concept of exchange purchasing. A higher percentage of members in high-deductible health plans indicate they are interested in using exchanges, compared with those in low-deductible plans (59 percent vs. 45 percent, respectively).

[See also: Survey shows concern about HIX deadline.] 

Service quality may also play a role in shaping demand, as members with the highest levels of interest in using exchanges are those who have contacted their health plan regarding a problem during the past year (60 percent), compared with those who have not had a problem with their health plan (45 percent), according to J.D. Power.

"As healthcare costs continue to increase and members pay a higher percentage of the premium, health plan members are increasingly aware of exactly what they are getting for their premium," said Rick Millard, senior director of the healthcare practice at J.D. Power and Associates, in a March 11 news release. "If a member has experienced problems and perceives the possibility of having more control over costs through exchanges, this new purchasing method may become more appealing."

Overall, 48 percent of health plan members (combining both group and individual markets) indicate they are interested in using a state exchange, if it were available to them, according to the study. Among members with group coverage, interest in state exchanges is more prevalent when their employer has not offered a choice of health plans. Members who have a choice of health insurance brands are less interested in exchanges (36 percent) than do those who have no choice (50 percent).

[See also: Half of states go with government HIX.]

"Income-eligible members with high out-of-pocket costs and less tenure with a health plan are most likely to try exchanges," said Millard. "The exchange also appeals to those working at small companies who want to take more direct control over their healthcare expenses."

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