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Posted on 05.31.2012

Rebranding Health Insurance Exchanges

Earlier this month the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services started considering a name change for one of the healthcare reform law's most important consumer-facing provisions: health insurance exchanges. As I read the story in Kaiser Health News about the possible rebranding, I found myself nodding along with the premise: Health insurance exchanges are intended to be consumer-friendly online marketplaces where individuals and small businesses can compare and purchase health insurance - but the word "exchange" doesn't clearly convey that message. In fact, in almost every news story I've read about exchanges, the word "marketplace" is used as a synonym to help readers understand the concept.

According to Kaiser Health News, CMS Office of Communications Director Julie Bataille, CMS is not recommending the use of the word exchange in enrollment materials, based on focus group results in seven major cities that showed the word is confusing to consumers. She told Kaiser Health News that the word can have a number of different meanings to consumers, including "the idea that they may have to swap something." In Utah, officials are considering changing the name of its already-operating exchange because they think the name "carries negative connotations" and doesn't resonate with consumers.

"We want to make sure that the exchange is resonating as a market-based solution," Patty Connor, director of the Utah Health Exchange advisory board, told The Salt Lake Tribune. Neither Utah officials or CMS officials have said what new moniker they would like to adopt, just that it needs to be a more consumer-friendly title. I agree that a new name may be in order - but I'm not sure that the word marketplace gets the job done, either. As a University of Georgia professor told Kaiser Health News, the word marketplace may encourage the idea that the lowest price policy is the best one, which doesn't hold true in the health insurance arena.

What do you think? Is "health insurance exchange" a confusing name? Should CMS drop it in favor of a clearer term? If so - what name would you propose? Let us know in the comments section.  

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