Health insurance: a push to restrict choice in 2014?

Health insurance reform will give consumers one-stop shopping to compare and sign up for insurance plans. But in states like New Mexico, not all plans may be included.

Kimberly Ryan/Hobbs News Sun/AP/File
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (shown here, right, at a ribbon cutting ceremony in June) appointed a panel to recommend how the state should implement federal health insurance reform. One of its suggestions could lead the state to keep consumers from finding out about health insurance plans it considers too costly.

One of the most consumer-friendly changes coming in America's health reform will be the ability to easily compare health plans.

Starting in 2014, each state can establish a health insurance exchange, a one-stop shop where consumers can compare and sign up for health insurance.

On Thursday, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced that each state could receive up to $1 million in federal grants to set up the exchanges. The idea is that government creates the marketplace; the private sector competes..

But it isn't that simple. Since each state can craft its own insurance exchange (or leave it to the federal government), there are likely to be numerous variations in the data consumers receive. Some states may give their residents information on all the plans available; others may not.

New Mexico appears to be heading down the second path. Two weeks ago, a panel appointed by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson recommended that the state establish an exchange that "assumes an active role in driving market reforms and protecting consumers."

The panel's report (.pdf) goes on to explain: "This could include restricting plans from the Exchange that would exceed specified premium growth levels or by requiring cost containment initiatives of plans participating in the Exchange. While some states have developed Exchanges that merely serve as a market organization and distribution center for health care plans, it is recommended that New Mexico develop a strong Exchange that promotes competition between plans based on quality and price in a way that is transparent to consumers."

Isn't the idea that the state provides all the information and consumers get to choose?

Apparently not in New Mexico. The panel proposes using the exchange as leverage with insurers "to help control the cost of the health care system." If that means not providing consumers information on plans that, in the state's eyes, aren't doing enough to keep costs down, the state seems ready to do that.


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