Health Insurance

Here's what Obamacare customers think of their plans...

People with Obamacare plans—particularly those who re-enrolled this year—were significantly more satisfied with their experience signing up for health insurance than customers were last year, according to a new report.

Obamacare customers nationally also tended to be more satisfied with their plans bought in 2014 than people who primarily have traditional job-based health coverage—the majority of those with insurance—the study by the J.D. Power market research company found.

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And those customers from last year were as happy with their coverage as other people who had multiple choices when it came to buying plans outside Obamacare markets from insurers or brokers, according to the J.D. Power report, which was released Thursday.

"Cost is the most influential attribute driving satisfaction among [Obamacare] plan enrollees," the report said.

Ariel Fernandez, left, sits with Noel Nogues, an insurance advisor with UniVista Insurance, as he signs up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act in Miami.
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Rick Johnson, director of the health-care practice at J.D. Power, said that Obamacare "marketplace shoppers are very cost-sensitive."

"Unlike many traditional health-plan members, who are often tied to a single employer benefit offering, marketplace members have the option to switch plans annually, allowing them to shop for either the most affordable or the most valuable plan."

However, the study, which questioned 3,037 new enrollees and returning enrollees, found that Obamacare customers' satisfaction with their plans tended to vary depending on the kind of government exchange they used to buy coverage.

People most satisfied with their plans bought them on, the federally run marketplace. customers tended to be more satisfied with their plans if their state had partnered with the federal government to conduct enrollment, as opposed to if they were states that opted out of running their own exchanges.

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Customers overall who used one of the 14 individual exchanges run by a state or the District of Columbia had the lowest satisfaction with their plans of any kind of Obamacare customer.

But notably, scored dead last among federal government agencies in the U.S. Customers Experience Index report issued by earlier this week. And federal government agencies, as a rule, tend to score much lower on Forrester's index than any of the other 17 industry sectors examined.

A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which operates, declined to comment on either the J.D. Power or Forrester Research report.

Both reports come two months after the end of Obamacare's second open-enrollment season, which saw nearly 11.7 million select plans on government insurance exchanges. Those marketplaces were established to help people, often with federal financial assistance, comply with the Affordable Care Act rule requiring nearly all Americans to have health coverage or pay a fine.

Among Obamacare opponents, one complaint is that the health-care law forces uninsured people to buy coverage that is too expensive for their personal health needs, and that they will have difficulty actually using their benefits.

But the J.D. Power study suggests that, on average at least, Obamacare customers are more or as satisfied with their insurance than other people who are insured under private plans, as opposed to by government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

The study measured satisfaction with plans by evaluating customer's satisfaction with cost, as well as with coverage and benefits, provider selection, claims processing, communications and customer service. The study also looked at the "enrollment experience"—how long it took to sign up, the clarity of instructions, ease of navigating websites and understanding benefits, among other factors.

Last year, the first for Obamacare enrollment, J.D. Power found that customers' satisfaction with the sign-up experience had a score of 615, based on a 1,000-point scale. In 2015, that satisfaction level grew by 55 points to a 670 score, the study found.

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Customers' satisfaction with their plans used in 2014 won a score of 696. That is 17 points higher than overall health-plan satisfaction among people surveyed in the 2015 J.D. Power Member Health Plan Study in "traditional, mostly employer-based plans not purchased on a [Obamacare] exchange," the report said.

People in that other study who had multiple plans to choose from were as satisfied with their plans as were Obamacare customers.

California, which runs their own Obamacare marketplace, "is the only state in which satisfaction with non-marketplace plans [bought off the exchange] ... is higher than with marketplace exchange plans." California exchanges-sold plans scored just 656 in customer satisfaction, while non-exchange plans scored 695.

Dana Howard, a spokesman for Covered California, when asked for comment, said he could only speak to the customer reaction seen by the exchange.

"We had strong interest, and strong re-enrollment," said Howard. "We had a 92 percent retention rate of those people who were ... already paying their plans and renewed, more than 900,000. We had 500,000 people additional people select plans for this enrollment."

"We're always looking for ways to have consumers find better value in the plans," he said.