Consumers want live help with online exchange

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

Surveys of nearly 700 Coloradans found they support the states new health insurance exchange, but found they want hands-on help to make sense of the online market slated to go into effect in 2014.

A navigator system is critical, said Danny Katz, director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group Foundation, CoPIRG, one of the groups that conducted focus group meetings in October and November at 53 sites across Colorado.

People liked the idea of comparing health plans (online), but said, we need to have an ability to talk to somebody to get advice, Katz said.

Participants said it was crucial that the navigators not be biased people who work for insurance companies.

They also want health exchange managers to be aggressive in negotiating with health insurance providers to get consumers the best quality plans for the lowest cost.

CoPirg worked with the Colorado Center on Law and Policy and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative to conduct the detailed consumer surveys. Leaders from those groups plan to present their findings on March 26 to members of the board overseeing the creation of the health exchange.

Among the conclusions:

  • Consumers want to be able to connect with a live person even if theyre reviewing health insurance information online.
  • Shoppers want to be able to identify health plans that are relevant to them and want to search using criteria such as cost, provider networks and covered benefits.
  • If consumers are eligible for other government programs, they want exchange staffers to be able to connect them directly with these programs.
  • Even if participants generally opposed federal health reform, they liked the idea of Colorado having its own health insurance exchange.

Among those who assisted with the community forums was Alisha Brown of the Stapleton Foundation. The foundation has worked with five neighborhoods in northeast Denver to tap be well block captains. These are lay members of the community who get special training and educate members of their family and the neighborhood about health reform.

Brown said people are eager to learn more about potential changes on the horizon as a result of health reform. But, they want to get information from someone they know and trust, not an outside expert. Thats why she said the block captain network, which already has about 45 trained volunteers, offers so much promise.

She said plans for an online shopping network, similar to Travelocity, which offers competing prices for airline tickets, is both appealing and intimidating to people in the community.

We know theres a digital divide in our community, Brown said. The system could be a barrier unless there are people in place to guide consumers.