By Sen. Jay Rockefeller
IF you've ever had to decide on a health insurance plan, you probably spent days with stacks of paper all over the dining room table trying to sift through fine print that seems like it's written in Latin.
Comparing plans is absurdly complicated. It's hard to think about the types of services you might need in the future, and insurance companies don't make it easy on consumers to wade through pages of documents that don't really tell you what's covered.
Starting Sept. 23, all of this changed. Because of a new consumer protection in the health reform law based on a bill I introduced, insurance companies must clearly explain their coverage plans and make them easy-to-understand. When spending money on a new purchase, you probably examine all the options, comparison shop, and try to make an informed decision. You should be able to do the same thing before choosing a health insurance plan. Finally, it is now easier for families to compare and understand plans, and then choose the one that best fits your needs.
Now, health insurance companies must provide standard summaries of their benefits and coverage so that you can easily look at the differences between plans. This will include something like our "nutrition labels" on packaged food. Your health insurance plan will now have to provide you with a Coverage Facts label so you can get a sense of the out-of-pocket costs you will have to pay for routine medical care like office visits, lab tests, and prescription drugs as well as for complex medical treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation treatment. And you will have a glossary of commonly used terms like "deductible" and "co-payment" so that you can track all the health care jargon. Go to healthcare.gov to find these explanations with each insurance option. Gone are the days when you had to work to decipher what your health plans actually cover and at what cost.
One of the most important benefits of the health reform law is that it stands up to insurance companies and puts you - the consumer - first. Health insurance companies can no longer take advantage of you - charging more money for less service, hiding behind loopholes and excuses to deny benefits you paid for, and making your plans overly complicated.
I know the health reform law isn't very popular. Many have worked to demonize the terms "Obamacare" and "health reform." But when people are asked about specific provisions in the law, they are often very much in favor of them - covering pre-existing conditions, being able to keep young adults on parents' health insurance until age 26, and making sure insurance companies spend more of their premium dollars on actual medical care and less on seven figure salaries for health insurance executives and extravagant marble halls in fancy health insurance offices, just to name a few.
In fact, a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll showed that requiring insurance companies to provide easy-to-read summaries of their benefits is the most popular piece in the health reform law - 84 percent of people really liked that new benefit.
I know how deeply frustrated people have been by the confusing information they get from insurance companies, and many are sick and tired of guessing what their insurance company will or won't cover.
I'm proud to have worked to push the Administration to make sure this rule stays strong by defending consumers and rejecting attempts to weaken any of these protections for you.
In August, because of another provision in the health reform law that I wrote, West Virginians started receiving checks if their health insurance companies overcharged them. And now, Americans are also able to get easy-to-read explanations of their benefits. You deserve to be treated fairly by health insurance companies, so that you can get the best care you need at the lowest cost. Because of the health reform law, we're finally seeing that happen.
Rockefeller is West Virginia's senior U.S. senator.