THE BLOG

A Better Way to Shop for Health Insurance During Open Enrollment

11/21/2012 05:16 pm ET | Updated Jan 21, 2013

It's that time of year again -- open enrollment season for health insurance when consumers across the country will once again wrestle with difficult decisions. It's no secret that consumers dread shopping for health insurance -- our own consumer testing studies showed us that shopping for health coverage was one of the hardest shopping tasks they faced.

But this year, consumers have a new tool on their side to help navigate their heath insurance options and cut through industry jargon: the Summary of Benefits and Coverage form. The first-of-its-kind disclosure form, created by the Affordable Care Act, allows consumers to compare health insurance plans apples-to-apples. The form helps spell out what kind of coverage a plan offers and the types of costs consumers can expect. It even has examples of what a common medical scenario -- such as having a baby -- might cost.

Consumer Reports and its advocacy arm, Consumers Union, have created online tools to make sure consumers know about the new form, and can share their experiences shopping with the new information. Find out more about the form by visiting www.consumerreports.org/SBCinfo. Then share your experience with the form or feedback on how it can be improved by visiting www.SBCfeedback.org.

On top of your annual head scratching over what insurance decisions to make, you might also be wondering how health reform changes could affect you. To answer your questions and get consumers prepared for open enrollment and beyond, Consumer Reports is offering a new, free guide called "Health Reform: Seven Things You Need to Know." This guide helps cut through all the confusing -- and sometimes misleading -- information out there and breaks it down in to seven parts.

First, we tackle protections available to you today, like free preventive care benefits and protections preventing insurers from dropping you when you get sick or limiting life time payouts.

The guide also looks ahead to clearly explain the key changes starting in 2014. Consumers can find out more about new ways to buy and afford insurance and how the 'mandate' will affect them. We explain the new system of exchanges, which will help facilitate consumer-friendly, side-by-side comparisons of insurance options. The guide also addresses new Medicaid eligibility and describes how the law could affect your employer.

We know that health reform can be complicated and time consuming. Not everyone has the time to sit down and learn the details of the new law -- even if they wanted to. But we also know that it's critical for consumers to know what's available to them and to take advantage of the benefits.

Consumer Reports' "Health Reform: Seven Things You Need to Know" is available at ConsumerReportsHealth.org/freeguides. The guide is also available in Spanish at ConsumerReportsenEspanol.org/salud.