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Report: Health insurance exchanges fail to attract eligible customers Posted: November 24th, 2013

By Maryalene LaPonsie

It may be we are a nation of procrastinators, or it could be technical glitches are keeping customers away. Whatever the reason, a Commonwealth Fund report finds only 17 percent of those eligible to buy affordable health insurance on government health insurance exchanges have visited them.

The research foundation discovered awareness of the exchanges has increased since earlier this year, but consumers don't seem to be in any rush to go shopping for health insurance coverage.

Less than one in five have visited health insurance exchanges

The survey found 60 percent of respondents were aware of the exchanges, and 53 percent said they knew there might be financial assistance available to help them find low-cost health insurance plans. However, less than one in five had actually gone to the online exchanges to compare their medical insurance options.

In addition, only 21 percent of those who went to the exchange, or marketplace, actually enrolled in health insurance coverage. That number correlates with the 27 percent who said they had a good or excellent experience on the exchange. Meanwhile, 70 percent said they had a fair or poor experience.

The following percentages of shoppers said it was impossible, very difficult or somewhat difficult to do these things on the exchanges.

  • Find affordable health insurance plans: 60 percent
  • Compare medical insurance benefits: 58 percent
  • Find a plan with the coverage needed: 56 percent
  • Compare health insurance premiums: 52 percent
  • Compare out-of-pocket costs: 51 percent

Exchanges experience shaky rollout

The health insurance exchanges were launched with a host of technical problems on Oct. 1, 2013. The site was overwhelmed with visitors and, in some states, the exchanges were taken offline temporarily.

"The initial rollout of the health insurance marketplaces has been challenging, but as the website problems are addressed we expect people's experiences to improve," said Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal in a written statement. "However, it is crucial that the federal marketplaces are open and functioning well to be sure those gains are fully realized and that users are able to understand the costs and benefits of the products they are being offered."

Consumers will be able to enroll in health insurance plans offered on the exchanges until March 31, 2014. According to the Commonwealth Fund, 58 percent of those who are potentially eligible for tax credits to pay for their health insurance coverage say they will likely try to enroll in a plan or learn more about financial assistance before the enrollment period ends.