Mortgage metaphor…

How confusing and complicated is the individual insurance market? It makes the much-maligned mortgage industry look clear and simple in comparison.

I was reading a recent study in the Journal of Insurance Regulation (Winter 2007) conducted by Michael Wroblewski during his time at Consumers Union, and the comparison came up. From the article:

“The question remains how consumers choose individual health insurance when they are required to assemble the information on the relevant attributes themselves, because they do not have employers or unions acting as intermediaries for this purpose. And, unlike other financial decisions consumers make, such as mortgage products in which the market provides consistent information for standard products (e.g. 30-year mortgages), standardized information for individual health insurance products does not exist; hence, comparative cost, coverage and benefit data is much more difficult to come by.”

Our individual insurance market is like trying to figure out to compare mortgages where different companies had different terms and lengths, and its impossible to compare, with one company selling 27- and 32-year mortgages, another selling 31.5- and 26-year mortgages.

Contrary to those who mis-characterize the bill, SB1522 doesn’t prohibit the equivalent of a 28.5-year mortgage, if some insurer wanted to provide that “creative” product; it just requires that the insurance company offers a standard product—the equivalent of the 30-year mortgage—as a benchmark.

My hope with SB1522 is that we at least get to the place where people have a standard loan that they can compare between plans, that they are appropriately alerted when purchasing “subprime” insurance, and that we set a minimum standard to prevent the “junk” products that are the insurance version of predatory lending.

Obviously, with everything going on in the mortgage and housing crisis, there’s renewed attention whether those disclosures and consumer protections are enough. Yet it would be a major step to even get those basic protections in the individual insurance market.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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