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Obamacare's star ratings offer a glimmer of insight — but not for all

Lauren Weber and Phil Galewitz, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

ST. LOUIS -- As millions of Americans start shopping for individual health insurance for 2020, they will see federal ratings comparing the quality of health plans on the Affordable Care Act's insurance marketplaces.

But Christina Rinehart of Moberly, Mo., who has bought coverage on the federal insurance exchange for several years, won't be swayed by the new five-star rating system.

That's because only one insurer sells on the exchange where the 50-year-old former public school kitchen manager lives in central Missouri. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in Missouri was not ranked by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

"I'm pleased with the service I get with that and the coverage I have," she said, noting she focuses on cost and whether her medications and checkups are covered.

Rinehart's case illustrates one reason why the star ratings are unlikely to play a big role in people's decision-making for the first year of the national rollout. Nearly a third of health plans on the federal exchanges don't yet have a quality rating -- including all the plans in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. Only one insurer is available in nearly a quarter of counties across the U.S. And consumers may not find the information behind the star ratings valuable without additional details, insurance experts say.

Across Missouri, Cigna is the only one of seven insurers to get ratings. The others have not yet been in the marketplace for the three years needed to merit a score.

 

Missouri is one of eight states that don't have any health plans that earned at least three stars. The others are Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, West Virginia and Wyoming. States with the most three-star or higher health plans are New York (12), Michigan (10), Pennsylvania (9), Massachusetts (8) and California (7).

The star ratings are largely new to the federal exchanges, which operate in 39 states. About 80% of plans in the federal marketplaces earned three or more stars overall, CMS said. Only 1% earned five stars.

The new federal star ratings are based on three main areas: evaluations of the plans' administration, such as customer service; clinical measures that include how often the plans provide preventive screenings; and surveys of members' perception of their plan and its doctors.

Ratings can be viewed at healthcare.gov, where consumers review plans' benefits and prices. Open enrollment runs from Friday through Dec. 15 for the federal exchange states, though enrollment lasts longer in the District of Columbia and most of the 11 states that operate their own marketplaces.

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