The Utah Experiment and the Importance of Information

Massachusetts received the lion’s share of attention, but one other state had also created a health insurance exchange before Congress passed the Affordable Care Act health reform law.  The Utah Health Exchange (UHE) is an experiment that warrants close watching.

The Utah approach is focused heavily on the value of consumer information.  As the state’s lieutenant governor Greg Bell puts it, the UHE is an Internet-based portal.  In his words, “It is a single shopping point where consumers can evaluate their options, and then brokers, agents and employers can share information.”  This is a consumer-centered approach that has appeal to other states.  In fact, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) recently recommended that his state adopt the Utah model.

At the Healthcare Leadership Council, we’ve witnessed firsthand the benefits of equipping consumers with comparative health insurance information.  When we launched an initiative called Health Access America a few years ago, we commissioned public opinion research that found 50 percent of uninsured Americans had no idea how or where to find information on health plan benefits and costs.  By setting up web-based portals that allowed consumers to compare different plans, we saw a difference in the number of people purchasing health coverage.

It will be interesting to see statistics emerging from Utah in terms of the impact consumer-friendly information has on insurance acquisition without an individual mandate (a key difference between the Massachusetts and Utah approaches to health reform) and how head-to-head competition between plans in the web-based exchange affects coverage cost and value.