People hate shopping for health insurance

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Americans rarely switch to new health plans when the annual insurance-shopping season comes around, even if they could have gotten a better deal.

The bottom line: People loathe shopping for health plans, and many are bad at it, for one major reason: "It's just too hard," Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me last year.

Reality check: During any insurance program's annual enrollment period, most people end up staying with the status quo, if it's an option, instead of picking a new plan.

  • Fewer than one out of 10 seniors voluntarily switch from one private Medicare Advantage plan to another, according to new research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
  • The same holds true for Medicare's private prescription drug plans.
  • Most employers don't usually change insurance carriers, often out of fear of angering workers, and keep plan options limited.
  • Employees, after several reminders from HR, usually default to what they had.
  • Fewer than half of people in the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces actively re-enroll in new plans, even though the market was designed for comparison shopping.
  • Medicaid enrollees in some states have no say in the private plans they get.

Between the lines: Buying health insurance — a $20,000 decision for the average family — is more complicated than buying furniture.

  • With consumer products, you pretty much know what you're getting. With health insurance, you're making an educated guess of how much health care you'll use, hoping that you'll need none of it.
  • Health insurance terms and policies also are confusing, which turns people off from the shopping process.

The big picture: Shopping for insurance is difficult enough for most people. Shopping for actual doctors, tests and services is even more difficult and less widespread, and likely won't change if prices are unlocked.

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Coronavirus dashboard

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  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5 a.m. ET: 1,017,693 — Total deaths: 53,179 — Total recoveries: 212,072Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5 a.m. ET: 245,573 — Total deaths: 6,058 — Total recoveries: 9,228Map.
  3. Public health latest: Anthony Fauci called for all states to issue stay-at-home orders.
  4. 2020 updates: Joe Biden said his team is working out the details on a coronavirus-focused call with President Trump.
  5. Tech latest: Google will provide data on where and how people are traveling around the world based on anonymous data via Google Maps.
  6. Jobs latest: Coronavirus unemployment numbers are like a natural disaster hitting every state.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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