Choosing Health Insurance Tougher Than Parenting Decisions

How difficult is it to choose health insurance? It's more challenging than parenting.

That's the word from Aetna, which recently released its Empowered Health Index Survey findings. The poll of 1,500 people nationwide showed that picking the right medical coverage for individuals and families was the second-hardest "major life decision," with only funding retirement more of a challenge.

"Survey participants reported that choosing health care benefits is more difficult than purchasing a car, making decisions about medical tests or treatments, parenting and selecting homeowners, renters or auto insurance," Aetna said in a statement.

Why are people so intimidated? Aetna offered three reasons:
  • 88 percent of those interviewed said the available information is confusing and complicated.
  • 84 percent complained that health plans provide conflicting details.
  • 83 percent said that, in the end, it can be too hard determining which plan is best for them.

"The survey results showed that consumers understand the importance of health benefits. However, they don't feel they have the resources they need to make an educated decision," Mark Bertolini, Aetna's chairman, CEO and president, said in a statement. "We need to make the process of choosing and using health benefits easier for consumers." (See: " Open enrollment: 5 tips for selecting the best benefits.")

Most support health reform, but many can't explain it

The survey touched on other noteworthy elements, including health reform:
  • More than 75 percent believe the key features of health reform are important for them and their families. But 41 percent stressed that they need more information to understand its impact.
  • While trimming medical costs is a major political and social issue, many people don't closely monitor their own costs. Forty-three percent rarely or never track how much they spend on out-of-pocket health expenses.
  • Forty-one percent have skipped a dose of prescribed medication, stopped taking medication or delayed a needed medical procedure because of associated costs. Seventy-six percent of people in fair or poor health and 57 percent with chronic conditions are the most likely to do so.

Meanwhile, the cost for workplace-based family health insurance rose by 4 percent in 2012, while wages climbed a mere 1.7 percent, according to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The annual cost for family health coverage was $15,745 in 2012, with workers paying an average of $4,316 in premiums, according to Kaiser. (See: " Group health insurance premiums up 97% since 2002.")

Health insurance open enrollment decisions looming

The anxiety may rise this time of the year as open enrollment for employer-based medical plans is usually offered to workers in the fall. It's the time to gather relevant facts and spend the hours needed to learn which coverage is the most cost-effective while offering the best protection, says Wendy Shanahan-Richards, Aetna's national medical director and co-author of "Navigating Your Health Benefits for Dummies."