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Don't know much about health insurance exchanges? Join the club. Posted: June 11th, 2012

By Barbara Marquand

Health insurance exchanges -- marketplaces for buying health coverage -- are scheduled to open in every state in 2014 under federal health care reform law.

But most people who would qualify for government subsidies to help them afford coverage don't know anything about the exchanges, according to new research by CVS Caremark.

The pharmacy company found that 78 percent of consumers who would be eligible for new health insurance coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act have never heard of the exchanges. In addition, 60 percent said they will need help in understanding health insurance terms and navigating the health care system.

Unless the health care reform law is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court this year, most people will be required to have health insurance in 2014. Many people who don't have coverage through their employers or a government program will buy insurance through one of the new health insurance exchanges.

The exchanges will be set up in every state and serve as competitive insurance marketplaces, where individuals and small businesses will be able to compare health plans, get health insurance quotes and buy coverage. All the plans sold through the exchanges must meet certain benefits and cost standards.

The exchanges will also provide information to help consumers learn if they are eligible for government subsidies to purchase private insurance, or eligible for government health insurance programs, such as the federal and state Children's Health Insurance Program. The exchanges are supposed to simplify the insurance buying process and create a level playing field for small businesses.

Yet despite all the news coverage about health care reform, many consumers remain confused, says Helena Foulkes, CVS Caremark executive vice president and chief health care strategy and marketing officer.

"While awareness of the new law may grow over the next year as new services are put in place, consumers need help understanding the coming changes and support on how to sign up and participate in the exchanges," she said in a press statement.

Respondents in the CVS survey listed doctors as the most credible source for information about exchanges, followed by pharmacists, nurse practitioners and independent insurance consultants. CVS Caremark says it wants to play an active role in educating consumers.

The online survey's respondents included more than 1,000 consumers -- 70 percent of those surveyed are uninsured and 30 percent have individual health insurance. The survey did not include people with employer-sponsored insurance, or those covered by Medicare or Medicaid.