Consumers Turn to Online Brokers, Saving Money on Health Insurance Rates

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Enrollees that have struggled to navigate individual state health care exchanges are turning to alternative services that help them choose a health plan that fits their needs, while saving on health insurance rates. Companies like Stride Health and list and rank plans based on consumer preferences, helping the uninsured enroll in a cost-conscious health plan.

Online Brokers: New Twist on an Old Concept

Wired Magazine recently covered these private healthcare-matching companies, illustrating how helpful they can be through the story of Tommy Leep, who found coverage that fit his lifestyle for $200 a month. Leep used online broker Stride Health to find his health insurance plan.

The e-broker has also been helping consumers find health insurance plans for more than 10 years, but Stride Health takes the idea a step further.

The service adds Google-like algorithms that take into account personal information such as age, gender and health history. The service crunches these numbers, and then presents a “best plan,” “runner up” and the option to go without health insurance, labeled “risky move.”

Unfortunately, a drawback to these private online broker services is their inability to notify consumers about their government subsidy eligibility. An individual like Tommy Leep may buy an affordable plan through Stride Health, not realizing he may be able to get an even cheaper plan through his state’s health care exchange.

Admittedly, the health care exchange itself frustrates many users, but public libraries and health insurance agents are available for hands-on help.

Concerns About Health Insurance Online Brokers

Consumer groups are also worried that consumers are not getting the best recommendations from online broker services like Stride Health. Although the company claims it doesn’t factor insurance company commissions into its recommendations, consumer groups aren’t convinced that shoppers are truly getting the lowest health insurance rates.

Robert Krughoff is president of the non-profit consumer advocate group, Consumers’ Checkbook, an organization that, according to Fox News in Chicago, has been helping federal employees choose health plans for 30 years. Krughoff complains that these health insurance services aren’t regulated under the Affordable Care Act, and are therefore not required by law to keep commissions out of its recommendation process.

Consumer advocate Lynn Quincy of Consumers Union is concerned as well. She told Wired Magazine, “I wouldn’t make a web-based broker your only source of information because they’re going to show you only a subset of plans, and they may emphasize the ones that make the largest commissions.”

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk