Underinsured Face Daunting Medical Bills, Look For Help From Congress

"While much of the American health care discussion has focused on providing coverage to the country's 46 million uninsured, there is growing concern about millions more who are underinsured, or whose policies require them to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket before coverage kicks in," The Sacramento Bee reports. "The debate has also raised questions about affordable health insurance premiums and minimum coverage standards in an industry that markets a dizzying array of plans." The three Congressional proposals "attempt to address underinsurance concerns by requiring that insurance companies provide minimum coverage. While a final overhaul package is months away, each proposal also seeks some simplification of insurance coverage options for consumers."

"Today, choosing a plan is 'a very tall order,' said Marian Mulkey, policy analyst with the California HealthCare Foundation. 'Even well-informed, smart and motivated consumers can't reasonably be expected to absorb all the details about every benefit feature.' Enticed by pitches for inexpensive coverage, some consumers buy ill-fitting policies, or go into deals with unrealistic expectations. Some don't ask the right questions or neglect the fine print." In California, "two state agencies regulate the state's insurance providers," but "neither has the authority to fully dictate the products insurers can sell." A bill pending in the California legislature "would establish categories of coverage and standardizes how companies describe their plans, which could make it easier for consumers to compare coverage costs and benefits" (Calvan, 8/10).

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