Coming soon: Nutrition labels for health insurance

at 02:56 PM ET, 02/09/2012

See that? That’s what your health insurance brochure is going to look like starting Sept. 23, 2012. Earlier today, the White House finalized a key consumer-oriented provision of the health reform law: Standardized labels for health insurance plans. Think of them as nutrition facts for a health insurance plan that outline a health plan’s deductible, out-of-pocket limits and costs for visits to the emergency room or primary care doctor. What you see above is one part of a four-page document that insurance companies will have to provide to potential subscribers. You can see the full thing here.

These labels have been in the works for over a year now and, in the past month or so, got caught in some tussling between the insurance industry and consumer advocates. Most of it was about when the labels kick in and what information they will include. In today’s final regulation, the big thing is probably the implementation date: Consumers wanted the labels to come online as soon as possible; insurers lobbied for a January 2014 start date.

HHS sided with the consumers, and the labels will come online in September 2012, early enough to kick in before many open enrollment periods this fall. I’m already hearing insurance industry sources raise this timeline as their biggest concern: They’re not sure if they can meet the deadline.

As for the information, that got slightly pared back. The summary no longer contains information on a health plan’s premium, although the administration argues that’s easily available elsewhere. “People get premium information, they will have that,” Steve Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, told reporters this morning. “The goal of this provision was to focus on coverage, benefits and how they interact.”

The administration also pared back some information on the sample cost of a given course of medical treatment, such as having a baby or managing diabetes. Insurance companies only need to provide two examples now, rather than three.

Consumer groups that were panicking last month about big changes are now pretty happy with the final product. And in about seven months, American consumers will get a chance to decide what they think about it, too.

 
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