Magazine article Information Today

Shopping for Health Insurance on the Web

Magazine article Information Today

Shopping for Health Insurance on the Web

Article excerpt

Our need to understand health insurance has never been greater. Many of us are experiencing radical changes as premiums rise, employers reduce the share of health costs they're willing to pay, and the government changes the rules. Selecting the right plan has become more complicated as insurers offer more choices and employers allow workers to customize their benefits.

The Internet is a key resource for tackling these issues. According to the California HealthCare Foundation, nearly 10 million people shopped for health insurance on the Web in 2002. Since the early days of consumer information services more than a decade ago, insurance companies have aggressively used interactive communications to help the public match policy features to their needs as well as to collect sales leads and customer-interest profiles. Thus, insurance shoppers and those trying to understand their current coverage now have access to mature, sophisticated services from individual companies and industry sources.

Insurance sites are also becoming important customer-service assets. Industry studies show that customers want more control over their healthcare dollars. Rather than shop for new providers, some opt for new options at renewal time, such as raising a deductible in exchange for lowering a premium.

Learning About Insurance

It helps to get a general overview of the industry, what it has to offer, and the issues it faces.

One good place to start is "Navigating the Health Care Maze" on, a project of the nonprofit California-based National Health Law Program. This site features a pop-up glossary for such terms as HMO, POS, and PPO and offers clear explanations of managed care, tiered health plans, and other concepts.

Other succinct but comprehensive resources include the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's "Choosing and Using a Health Plan" ( plnl.htm) and "Checkup on Health Insurance Choices" (http://www.ah These straightforward fact sheets answer all the questions you may have on various types of programs, matching services to your needs, and how health insurance works. The rest of the AHRQ Consumers and Patients site (http://www well worth a lengthy visit, as it's packed with information on how to be a savvy healthcare consumer.

Because health insurance is regulated by each state, it's useful to know how yours handles health-plan admission, coverage for pre-existing conditions, and financial assistance or affordable health insurance. With funding from private foundations, the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute has assembled helpful "Consumer Guides for Getting and Keeping Health Insurance" for each of the 50 states (http://www.healthinsuranceinfo .net). To directly reach your state's insurance commissioner with a question or a concern, see the Commissioners Quick List on's Personal Insurance page ( It includes phone numbers as well as links to Web sites.

Shopping, Comparing

Major insurers are well-represented by extensive Web sites (some are listed in the sidebar). But these are not necessarily the best sites for serious shoppers to consult. Just as the brick-and-mortar investment brokerage industry has spawned Internet-only marketing vehicles, so has the insurance industry.

Prominent among the newcomers that take full advantage of the Internet's customization and near real-time communications capabilities are (http://, which now provides quotes from 114 health insurers, and eHealthinsur (http://www.ehealth, which represents more than 140 companies. offers renters, dental, travel, auto, life, and home insurance and features a database of more than 3,000 advice articles. eHealthInsurance claims its online application process is 50-percent faster than others because many of its carriers accept electronic signatures. …

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