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Report: Illinois insurers lack clear information for women

June 24, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) — Most insurance plans offered in Illinois on the health overhaul law’s new marketplace meet the law’s requirements for women’s health, according to a report released Wednesday.

But user-friendly information was lacking, consumer materials were outdated and barriers such as log-in requirements made it impossible to compare birth-control options while shopping among competing health plans.

Information about abortion coverage “was exceptionally difficult” to find, the report noted, with some call center representatives seemingly guessing at what was covered or “whispering or giggling nervously” while providing information.

The report calls for insurance companies to do a better job explaining to women what they cover. Some insurers promised more training for call center workers in response to the findings.

“We found contraceptive coverage is pretty strong in Illinois,” said report co-author Kathy Waligora. “But when we looked at how easy it is to find out what’s actually covered, that was not as positive.”

Researchers reviewed 48 health plans offered in three regions of the state. Research, including “secret shopper” phone calls to insurers, was conducted by the University of Chicago’s Section of Family Planning and Contraceptive Research and EverThrive Illinois, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for women, children and families.

Nearly all the plans covered required birth-control methods without extra charge to patients, researchers found. Contraception is among a range of preventive services that must be provided without cost-sharing under President Barack Obama’s health care law. The idea is to help women determine when they get pregnant and to increase the number of healthy newborns.

The health law does not require abortion coverage. Plans sold on the marketplace that cover abortion must pay those claims using non-federal money.

Three Illinois insurance carriers — Assurant, Coventry and Illinicare — covered “medically necessary” abortions, according to the report.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Health Alliance, Humana, Land of Lincoln and United Healthcare covered abortion in certain exceptional situations: to save a woman’s life or if she is a victim of rape or incest.

According to the report:

—A call was made to Coventry’s customer service center to determine whether abortion “would be covered in instances of threat to the life of the woman, rape and/or incest.” During the call, the call center representative said “that is a hairy topic” and “giggled nervously.”

“We are disappointed about the customer service call mentioned in the report,” Coventry spokesman Rohan Hutchings said. “We will take this opportunity to provide coaching to our representatives, and update training as appropriate.”

—A Humana call center representative “was polite, but clearly uncomfortable discussing abortion, actually whispering about the level of coverage, and was not able to provide a definitive answer regarding coverage.” Humana did not provide the researchers with a response.

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Online:

Report: http://www.everthriveil.org/content/insurance-coverage-family-planning-services

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Carla K. Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson .

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