Insurance Companies’ Involvement in Healthcare Web Site Fix Raises Conflict of Interest Issues

Tuesday, November 12, 2013
(graphic: San Jose Public Library)

The Obama administration is increasingly looking to health insurance companies for help in fixing the flawed and much-maligned website—a decision that creates potential conflicts of interest.


If the government’s portal was working properly, Americans would be able to comparison shop among the plans available through the healthcare exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act (pdf). But with the website’s many hardware and software problems preventing people from signing up for insurance, the administration has called on insurers for technical help.


But as part of this decision, consumers may find themselves going directly to an insurance company’s website for information—and companies would not be required to tell visitors about other plans available through competitors.


“If insurers’ sites became a main way to buy coverage, it would undermine the side-by-side comparison shopping—as is used on travel Web sites such as Kayak—that is meant to promote,” Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein wrote at The Washington Post. “That’s because individual insurers are not obligated to tell their customers about competing health plans available. They are required only to advise consumers that other plans exist and can be found on”


Other problems may arise as well, according to consumer advocates.


“One key question is whether insurance company advertising will accurately reflect the benefits people can get from the Affordable Care Act or if they will attempt to use fear and uncertainty to push people into a particular plan to increase their profits at customers’ expense,” Eddie Vale, a strategist with Protect Your Care, an advocacy group that promotes the law, told the Post.


Like consumers, insurance companies are also unable to access certain data on the website, such as information that tells them if customers’ income qualifies them for government subsidies. The firms and the White House, whose representatives have been actively engaged in meetings, are seeking a way to solve that problem, if only on a temporary basis. The insurance companies are reportedly insisting on keeping any extra subsidy payments that are later discovered to have been accidentally paid to them.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

White House Relying More on Insurance Carriers to Help Fix Healthcare.Gov (by Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein, Washington Post)

Health Insurance Companies Join Rescue Effort (by Jeffrey Young, Huffington Post)


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