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Don't wait 'til last minute to enroll in Obamacare

Attention shoppers: After today, for those whose employers don’t offer health insurance, there will only be five shopping days left for coverage that starts on January 1, 2015.

December 15 is the last day you will be able to pick an Obamacare plan if you want to be insured beginning New Year’s Day.  If you’re like most folks, you’ll wait until close to the deadline to make a choice.

Don’t be like most folks.

If you don’t give yourself enough time to sort through the options available to you, you might wind up paying your insurance company a lot more than necessary — which is exactly what a lot of my former colleagues in the business are hoping for.

Insurance company executives have spent millions of dollars persuading us — and the people we vote for — that what we crave is more “choice and competition.”  They even bankrolled a group called the Choice and Competition Coalition, which is little more than a public relations and lobbying outfit designed to protect the profitable status quo for health insurers. They do so by making sure certain members of Congress don’t even think about giving us the choice and competition that would really make difference.

That would be the choice of a government-run “public option” to compete with private insurance companies. Insurers spent millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions in a successful effort to strip the public option from the bill that became the Affordable Care Act.

In my 20 years in the insurance industry, I never met anyone who said they were looking forward to picking a health plan. There’s a good reason for that. Trying to figure out what’s best for yourself and your family can be bewildering. Even with my background in the insurance world, I would rather have a root canal than sit in front of a computer for hours trying to determine which plan offers the best value.

Industry statistics show that once people make a decision, they’ll stay with the same plan for years, even if there are other plans available to them that would cost less and provide better coverage.  Why? We don’t enjoy the process because we’re not educated consumers of insurance. We don’t really know what we’re doing or what we’re buying. Polls have shown that large percentages of Americans don’t even have a grasp of basic insurance terms and concepts.

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That was borne out by a study released in October by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Kaiser Family Foundation. The researchers described insurance literacy barriers as “huge” for most Americans.

Of the millions of people who enrolled in Obamacare plans last year, “many…didn’t understand basic concepts like how a deductible works or why premiums must be paid every month,” the researchers wrote. “Many consumers also had trouble understanding (Affordable Care Act) premium and cost sharing subsidies.”

Knowing this, the Obama administration last week pleaded with folks who will be returning to the marketplace this year to shop around. Chances are good they can save money and get better coverage if they do.

Reprinted by permission of The Center for Public Integrity.

Following a 20-year career as a corporate public relations executive, Wendell Potter left his position as head of communications for CIGNA, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, to show the world the “dark inner workings” of the insurance industry.

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