Starting next March, the Affordable Care Act will require health insurance plans to present a standardized, comprehensible summary that consumers can use to compare their product with other coverage options — a nutrition label for health insurance, essentially. Susan Jaffe sat in with one of the consumer focus groups the National Association of Insurance Commissioners is conducting to test the new labels:

The testers are asked ... to read the papers describing the imaginary plans and pick one they like best. One young man dives into the task but is stopped by the word co-insurance. The form offers a definition he says he doesn’t understand. During a break halfway through the session, he tries unsuccessfully to call a friend who is an insurance agent.

He also has trouble with another term that tripped up other consumers. “Allowed amount, allowed amount, allowed amount,” he says, as if repeating it will make it clearer. (It’s the maximum amount on which payment is based for a covered service, according to the glossary of standard definitions that the law also requires insurers to provide consumers, although the testers didn’t get that information in the session.) ...

One woman, who appeared to be in her early thirties, said she and her husband have no insurance and go to a free clinic for medical care. The forms puzzled her, until some numbers grabbed her attention: “Showing what the plan is paying and what I’m paying, that’s a big eye-catcher for me,” she said. “A lot people think they are paying for the majority of the cost.”

She also posted two of the labels being looked at. You can download example one here, and example two here. I could nitpick both of them, but overall, they read to me like a huge improvement on the status quo, and I’m glad to see how much effort the various groups involved are putting into testing them with real consumers.