HEALTH PLANS: Fuzzy math from eHealthinsurance?

I’m having no luck getting a reply from eHealthInsurance.com (albeit I’ve approached them in a rather roundabaout route via their sponsored blogger!) about this study they put out last week. They claim that people buying high-deductible health plans from their site found that compared to last year their premiums fell an average of $29 per month. Given that those plans are pretty cheap anyway, that’s a pretty big fall. And several people have emailed me or referenced this study. (More details here and the report itself is here [PDF]). But when did you ever hear of health insurance premiums falling when health care costs continue to rise?

On further review there are more questions than answers. Who got insurance? Was this group more underwritten (i.e. healthier) than the previous year? And what benefits were they getting compared to last year?  And were there changes in deductibles, co-pays and out of pocket maximums?

Just saying that the premium went down is a bit like saying the average price of a BMW 3 series is less this year on average because more people are buying them without the fully loaded options. And if it’s really true that apples for apples the premiums went down why didn’t eHealthinsurance.com put that information in the report?

Anyone who can shed light on this, please get in touch.

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  1. I’m a licensed health insurance agent and I work at eHealthInsurance and I’d like to address some of the false statements in this thread.
    Contrary to some of the comments to this blog, eHealthInsurance is a reputable, service-oriented health insurance agency. We offer the largest selection of quality health insurance plans available online. We strive to help as many people as possible get the coverage they need by presenting complex health insurance information in an objective, user-friendly format, enabling the research, analysis, comparison and purchase of health insurance products that best meet consumers’ needs. We are licensed to sell health insurance in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and have a full-service customer care center staffed with highly trained, licensed health insurance agents.
    There are many false statements in the comments to this blog, so I will address only the more recent and most egregious inaccuracies.
    — eHealthInsurance does not engage in or support “bid rigging” in any way. We represent over 175 leading insurance companies nationwide and the rates that we display on our website are provided by the insurance companies and regulated by the Departments of Insurance in each state. They are the same rates that consumers would get from the insurance company directly or another health insurance agent.
    — We have no bias for one carrier over another. In fact, one of our core values is the provision of unbiased advice and information to all consumers. When a consumer requests a quote, our website brings up every relevant plan available to the consumer in that Zip Code, and the consumer can sort those plans in various ways. If a certain plan or carrier does not appear on that results page, it is most likely because we don’t offer it. We do sometimes display a few “sponsored plans” or “sponsored companies” at the top of the page, but we still display all of the relevant plans, and we disclose on our website that the “sponsored” listings are paid for by health insurance companies for the purpose of highlighting a specific product, or represent products we feel may be of special interest to our customers. It is in our long-term business interest to make sure that each customer finds the health insurance plan best suited to his or her personal needs and budget, which is what we strive to do every day. That’s what builds customer satisfaction and helps us build our company and brand.
    — eHealthInsurance is not sponsored or operated by Golden Rule or any other health insurance company. We offer plans underwritten by Golden Rule and the other health insurance companies that we represent. We also are not owned or operated by Google, although you can find us by searching on Google and other search engines.
    — eHealthInsurance is not a health insurance company. We are a health insurance agency representing many insurance companies. We help people find and apply for health insurance, and we can advocate on behalf of members with the insurance companies. We don’t, however, underwrite the policies and cannot control how the insurance companies make eligibility decisions, pay claims, process payments, etc.
    — eHealthInsurance is NOT in the lead generation business. We are a licensed agency selling health insurance policies online. We do send e-mails to our customer base but honor “opt out” requests that we receive.
    — eHealthInsurance does not sell, trade or give away customer e-mail addresses or other personal information except in very limited and necessary circumstances which we disclose on our Privacy Policy. We do not sell information to lead aggregators, marketing companies, or other health insurance agents. We only use personal information to help consumers find and, if they choose to do so, apply for health insurance and other products that may be of interest to them. For example, we pass a customer’s personal data on to a health insurance company to enable the health insurance company to process the customer’s application. If a customer feels that they are receiving e-mails because of personal information provided to eHealthInsurance, it’s probably because that customer provided their information to a lead aggregator who passed that information on to two or three other agents.
    Special note to Rodrigo Esponda who commented on June 29, 2008: We have checked our files on your application and are happy to assist you if you have further questions. Please contact our Customer Service department at your convenience at 1-800-977-8860.
    Shannon F.

  2. Dear Coreen;
    Thank you for the information re the cold calls. You are absolutely right that my information was sold as a lead. Unfortunately 20 calls turned out to be a gross under report. THEY DO NOT STOP. NOW MONTHS HAVE GONE BY AND I KEEP GETTING CALLS. I actually feel bad for the brokers who are trying to make a buck and obviously were sold information very very far down the line. I suspect the information is sold and resold and resold. I was very polite to them, and they were genuinely sorry. But unable to take me off any list. We are talking about dozens of guys sitting in some strip mall somewhere trying to get a sale. I finally bought an efax number to give out in the future, as at least the calls get emailed instead of an intrusion. Please don’t give them your cell number as I did. live and learn.

  3. To Rodrigo Esponda:
    I’m really sorry to hear what’s happened to you.
    The best advice I can give is to look on your state’s website and see what organization oversees the insurance in your state. (You’ll want to get the exact term down, as each state goes by something slightly different…it’s usually something like “state” insurance commission). Then call up EHI, try to get to talk to someone as high ranking as possible, and when you hit a block, let them know if you don’t get to speak to at least a manager, you’re filing a complaint w/your state commissioner. If you get a manager, try to get a solid answer then (be sure to write down date, time, and who you talk to…each person, and what they said if you can). Tell whomever is the highest ranking you finally get to talk to, that you’ll be contacting the insurance if you don’t have your situation resolved within 24 hours. Generally when you pull the commission card, they tend to jump at least a little.
    Now days most state insurance commissions have a phone number and address online where you can call or write a complaint, and alot even have an online form you can submit.
    You can also take it one step farther and file with the Federal Insurance Commission, though a response from them will likely take awhile.
    Whatever you do, just keep pressing the issue and don’t let it drop.
    If you have a policy that you bought through EHI and you have the contact info for the provider (Golden Rule, Aetna, etc) call the state headquarters for that branch and let them know you’ll be calling the commissioner…that will probably have a greater response from them than from EHI.
    Hope this helps some and I really do hope this gets resolved for you soon 🙂

  4. This is for Missie in response to her backlash at Tom Kittensen MD…(and no, I don’t know Tom, but I feel you need this brief educational course to follow, and that Tom didn’t deserve your immature rant)
    “tom kittelsen md YOU COULDNT BE MORE INCORRECT. eHealthInsurance does NOT sell your information. Those so called calls from (other) health agents,..could they actually be Sales Reps from eHealthInsurance, and not other insurance companies?! YES, it could.And, yes it is!”
    Before you start calling someone “sad” and saying how they are trashing a business, you may want to educate yourself on something called “disclosed privacy practices” and the insurance business in general. Of course based on your defensive attitude I’m guessing you work for EHI. Most likely a recent college grad or undereducated individual who counts her greatest lifetime achievement as passing her state’s insurance licensing and certification exams, and who spends a greater part of her day following up on leads. Woohoo for you!
    Perhaps this is the only insurance company you’ve ever worked for…or perhaps you’ve never worked for one…in which case you really shouldn’t be commenting here at all. But in an effort to educate you where your previous learning attempts have failed…
    Ever hear of something called LEADS!?
    If you had, you’d grasp the concept that yes, if you provide your personal info to EHI, they can and will sell or provide for a kickback, that information to all of the 170 plus companies providing service through their site and all agents licensed to sell those policies.
    Here’s the part of eHealthInsurance’s Privacy Policy taken straight off of their page that confirms they will disperse your private info:
    “To serve as your state-licensed insurance agent, we will ask you to provide us with personal information about you. We will not disclose your personal information to anyone, except those specifically involved in the referral or processing of your health insurance quote or application.”
    When they state “those specifically involved in the referral or processing of your health insurance quote or application”, that DOES include EVERY company offering service AND EVERY agent licensed to sell those services…not just sales reps from eHealthInsurance.
    Being in the insurance field myself I will explain how it works as a private agent or broker….
    In the state in which you are licensed, you can choose which companies’ services and products you will offer to potential clients. So let’s say I work with Aetna, Anthem, and Kaiser. Now I want to know what potential clients are out there and what they’re looking for in a policy, so I have various routes I can take to get this information. In this instance two of several of these routes are
    1) I can purchase leads received directly from the companies (Kaiser, Anthem, etc), or
    2) I can purchase leads through a LEAD GENERATING COMPANY such as eHealthInsurance. I can buy leads from them because, since I’m a broker for the companies offered through EHealthInsurance, that classifies me as one of the parties who will “be involved with the processing of your health insurance quote or application”.
    Because those 170 plus companies offering services on here each have thousands of licensed brokers authorized to sell that product…which means if each broker bought your lead, you could potentially receive a call from every rep in your state!
    And to your comment to Tom MD on how to handle that:
    “Did you happen to say in one of those TWENTY so called phone calls “I am not interested, please take me off the follow up calls list.” OR go back online and request not to solicit. Simple and easy at that.”
    First of all, it seems as though you haven’t tried to get your name off of a distribution list or you’d understand it isn’t always that simple. (Might want to Google that…there are several hundred thousand listings for people trying to accomplish just that with no “easy” success).
    Second, it all depends on how many people buy the lead with your info on it. Sure, eHealthInsurance can take you off of their list, but if they’ve already sold it to 20 different parties, you’ll have to separately tell each of the parties to remove tour name from their list. And, since you won’t know who purchased you on their list until they call, you could get a call from each of the 20 parties before you can do a thing about it.
    Oh…and by the way…you can continue to get many more calls after that. See, while the privacy policy tells you what EHealthInsurance will do with your private info, they don’t tell you what the parties “involved with the processing of your health insurance quote or application” will do with your information or who they might sell it to. So guess what…even if they call and you ask them to take your name off their list…if they’ve sold your name to yet another distribution list, you can expect your private info to float around indefinitely….and at that point, not just to health insurance companies, but life insurance companies, or mortgage companies, or any company looking for the type of demographic that you provided when you filled out the eHealthInsurance application.
    So you see Missie…while you have successfully completed your GED and managed to pass those state insurance boards, you really do have a lot more to learn about how insurance companies operate, as well as privacy policies, and lead generation protocol.
    Also on an entertaining note, I think it’s funny how you go off on Tom MD about eHealthInsurance’s sales reps not getting commissions, when he never mentioned that in his comment. Maybe your reps don’t get commissions, but the agents and brokers of the companies offering services sure do…which is why they buy leads from your company in the first place.
    And for any sales rep who doesn’t get commissions…well they may not get it in cash, but keeping your job can be considered some form of commission. Even at CarMax and Saturn who don’t sell based on commission, if the sales reps don’t meet a regular quota, they can kiss that job goodbye. Sales reps who don’t sell don’t stay in any job for long. A company won’t waste their money on employing them.
    Oh and in response to another of your unnecessarily defensive remarks:
    “AND 20 calls, you are VERY much exaggerating that number. They do have a max phone call follow up, that they follow. SO, not to waste your time or theirs”
    So you know why they have a max number of calls they can make? It has nothing to do with wasting the company’s or the potential client’s time. It’s because after a certain number of solicitation calls from the same company on the same matter it’s considered HARASSMENT!!! Legally they can only call so many times…don’t act like their doing the client a favor.
    One last note…while you’re using this blog to suck up to your bosses at EHI, you might want to act on their behalf and address to the good people on here why since 2005 no one ever received a response to the last of Ron’s questions from Elisa Camahort…who said she’d get back to him on those matters. It’s been over 3 years…I think it’s safe to say they’re being more than a bit evasive.
    Good luck on climbing the ladder at EHI Missie! When all else fails I know Wal-Mart is always looking for greeters to defend them in law suits brought against them from everyone from Planned Parenthood to the state of Washington Works to Gibson Guitars.
    Best of luck with that 
    For everyone else considering eHealthInsurance…it’s always better to deal with a person. They’re licensed…if they screw you over they can lose that license. On here you’re dealing with nothing more than the Wizard of Oz and the man behind the curtain. You never know what you’ll get…one day you might get lucky. On another day, not so much.
    For those concerned with what happens to their private info…remember, even brokers and in person agents for private companies generally have in their policy that they may pass on or sell your info…but ask for information on how to “Opt Out” of the distribution before you fill out anything. If they require you submit the info before you “Opt Out”, find out how quickly you can be taken off the list once your application has been processed. The sooner you opt out and get off the list, the better.
    Remember people…shop smart and go with your gut! 🙂

  5. I applied for a health insurance for my family through ehealthinsurance.org and after more than a month and 700 dollars less they have not been able to provide me with the service. Given the situation I asked to cancel the service and get my money back and it has been hell. How can I get legal help?

  6. tom kittelsen md YOU COULDNT BE MORE INCORRECT. eHealthInsurance does NOT sell your information. Those so called calls from (other) health agents,..could they actually be Sales Reps from eHealthInsurance, and not other insurance companies?! YES, it could.And, yes it is!
    How many other insurance websites did you go to, and enter your personnal information into them as well? Could they be calling as well?
    AND 20 calls, you are VERY much exaggerating that number. They do have a max phone call follow up, that they follow. SO, not to waste your time or theirs.
    Did you happen to say in one of those TWENTY so called phone calls “I am not interested, please take me off the follow up calls list.” OR go back online and request not to solicit. Simple and easy at that. OR maybe 20 calls didnt happen.
    MD..? How would you like someone to try to trash your business by stating incorrect facts?
    Kind of sad.
    eHealthInsurance is a tool for those people who are not insurance savy. OR for those who like to be in control of what they are buying, and not get a plan pushed on them.
    If you find that the internet is not the way to go for you to obtain insurance, just let the insurance sales rep who follows up with you that. There is no pressure.
    They are not like other sales agents who are commissioned based, who want to sell you the most comprehensive plan so that they can get a bigger commission check.

  7. Well, eHealthInsurance is the dominant online broker, so they are pretty much free to promote which ever plan favors them, rather than the consumer. But there is good news. We’re a country based on creating competition in the marketplace. There are other options for you to pursue when purchasing health insurance. Might I recommend Health Plan One. We are focused on providing the very best customer service because we want to make sure you get the best plan to fit your lifestyle.
    Give us a visit at http://www.HealthPlanOne.com
    Or call us toll-free @: 877-567-5267

  8. ehealth insurance sold my personal information to every health insurance agency in the country. I am a physician and they gave out my personal email and phone number to everyone. I got without exaggeratin twenty plus cold calls from health sales people. Don’t give them your information is my advice.

  9. Don Osborn could not be more wrong…do your research…
    Google does not BASICALLY own EHI. The site is a brokerage not an Insurance company. They are in it to educate the end user. If people didnt have a tool such as this site offers..the would have nothing but your un educated ramblings to rely on….

  10. Just so you know, ehealthinsurance is basically owned by Google. The bottom line is never trust a guote generator. Shop, read all of the details, and apply online directly with the carriers. There are websites set up to allow you to do this conveniently. If you don’t have the time to do the work yourself, ask an agent a recomendation. That’s his job. Beware of sites that really designed to obtain your personal information that is then sold to agents as sales leads.
    Don Osborn

  11. Why does Golden Rule come back cheaper? Because it is. I work in Florida and Golden Rule KILLS Fortis’ rates day in and day out. Plus Fortis totally sucks about paying ANYTHING in the first year. We work at a brokerage firm and see all the policies and how they work. No companies gets more complaints then Fortis. They suck at paying claims. Every since Golden Rule got bought out by United Health Care they have been cleaning everyones clock. Only company that holds up is BCBS. That is because they have a very affordable 500 dollar 80/20 plan with copays. I don’t like how they work on allowable amounts, but their plans seem to be decent. If you are looking for an HSA, nobody has a better plan with a better price then Golden Rule/United Health Care. Plus their plans only have a 3 month wait on preventive care in the first year.
    Do not buy a right start plan. Do not buy an HSA savar plan. The right start plan with fortis has a CAP on outpatient – which includes such things as chemotherapy (mostly done on an outpatient basis) and outpatient surgeries. Why buy health insurance?

  12. I have just had a very bad experience with ehealthinsurance. The company is incompetent. When I tried to buy insurance through them, they hooked me up with a company that sat on their hand and did not process my payment. I never needed the insurance and they are out $600 but I am mad that I was promised insurance and they could not even process the account correctly.
    What good is insurance if it comes from a company that can not do the job?

  13. Help! Need to leave cobra and find affordable basic health care for an individual. Is ehealth a good option? Self employed with no medical problems and no dependents…any advice? Thanks

  14. rdg,
    That’s why it might be better to have an informed agent instead of an online enroller. I have talked to ehealthinsurance people and pointed these problems out some time ago. You should of heard how they bad mouthed your plan. Of course I was a bit more informed than their phone people, which wouldn’t take much.
    They have set up their software to give preferred rates for Golden Rule and standard rates for Fortis. If Elisa ever comes back she will say it’s all an accident. I know better, it’s all done with the desire to market one plan over another.

  15. Ron,
    Thanks for the information. I think you raise a serious question for eHealthinsurance. Why do they quote some companie’s preffered rates and quote standard rates for other companies? Where is the decision made about what rate to quote? Does eHealth just repeat back what the insurance company provides? Also who is getting the preffered rate?
    You raise another good point. That is that the plans have significant differences in coverage. This also affects the premium. What kind of disturbs me here is that how am I as a consumer supposed to know I can opt for 3 million life time max or an 8 million life time max? As a website that bills itself as an insurance agency, why don’t they point this out somewhere?

  16. rdg,
    You ask, “Please explain further the “Quarterly Trend Factor”
    Your plan’s premium is frozen for 12 months. But for new people enrolling the premium goes up a little every quarter. This way there is not one large rate increase every year. It is very complicated and no other company is this advanced. Likewise, if you don’t hit your $5,200 deductible this year, highly likely, your renewal premiums can be reduced by 10% next year. A few state’s won’t allow this but most do. So in a couple of years your rates could be much less than new enrollees then. Here again, I know of no other company with this feature. Your plan is just way ahead of the rest of the pack.

  17. rdg,
    You ask, “Are you saying that Fortis/Assurant offers a prefferred rate not quoted on eHealth Insurance?”
    Yes, plus they add on a higher lifetime max to Fortis to take the premium up.
    I will prove it. Do a quote on ehealthinsurance in the 48901 zip code for a 30 year old couple. Then do a quote on goldenrulehealth.com. The ehealthinsurance quote with Golden Rule is prefferred rates for their $5,250 HSA deductible at $109.50 per month. The Fortis rate is standard rates with a surcharge for $8 million lifetime max at $126.56 per month. The Fortis rate with preferred rating is $97.98 with the same lifetime max of $3 million per person.
    So ehealthinsurance is playing some games to always make Golden Rule cheaper if they can. Plus, Fortis has Right Start HSA (like Golden Rule’s HSA Saver which is quoted) which is never mentioned. The Fortis Rightstart HSA price ($5,100 deductible) for the above couple is only $59.84 per month. Golden Rules’s HSA Saver plan ($5,250 deductible) is $86.14 per month. Ask yourself which is cheaper – Fortis at $59.84 or Golden Rule’s $86.14. (rdg – your Fortis HSA plan is better coverage than Fortis’s HSA Rightstart HSA. You did it right. I have never enrolled a Rightstart HSA yet. Your plan, I assume, has the “Healthy Discount” at renewal and the Rightstart doesn’t have that feature.)
    Im sure Elisa will find out it’s totally an honest form of bid rigging, ha ha. We need another report by ehealthinsurance that will be published in all the newspapers so they can get a few more million dollars of free advertising. How about this: ehealthinsurance is Bid Rigging, Big Time!!!

  18. Hmmm. Well there are only 9 plans that show up for 50301. And they are all Golden Rule. I’ve never checked that area code before as I don’t live there. But as of a minute ago they only quoted Golden Rule.
    Please explain further the “Quarterly Trend Factor”

  19. rdg,
    I said look at ehealthinsurance.com and do a search in Iowa’s 50301 zip code. Your plan is gone rdg.
    You can get preferred, standard and smoker rates directly from Golden Rule at goldenrulehealth.com
    It’s too easy for anybody to figure it out.
    You are correct that bid rigging is a very serious charge. Smart move on the insurance you got rdg. You also have “Healthy Discounts” with your plan which could reduce your renewal premiums (most states have this). I don’t know your zip code but I assume your effective date of 6/1/05 would be a little cheaper than rates quoted after 8/01/05. It’s called the “Quarterly Trend Factor.”

  20. Can someone explain the organizations that people have to join to buy some of these plans. For example from eHealth website:
    Golden Rule These plans are available only to members of the Federation of American Consumers and Travelers (FACT),
    I have to pay a fee to be part of some organization for my insurance as well. What is the deal here?

  21. Ron,
    Bid rigging is a pretty serious charge. What do you have to back this up? Didn’t Marsh Mcllelan recently come under scrutiny for bid rigging insurance?
    I got quotes for my area code. Golden rule plans do tend to show up first but these have 10,000 deductibles. I happen to have a plan from Fortis/Assurant with a 5200 deductible that pays 100% after the deductible. The premium quoted on eHealth Insurance is within 4 dollars a month of what I am paying. Quote for husband and wife of 155 a month. My coverage started on June 1st. Based on my limited experience eHealth insurance provided an accurate quote. Are you saying that Fortis/Assurant offers a prefferred rate not quoted on eHealth Insurance?
    Is eHealth Insurance sponsored by Golden Rule?

  22. Elisa,
    ehealthinsurance is bid rigging and must be operated by Golden Rule, it’s so pathetic. I notice that ehealthinsurance quotes Golden Rule as prefferred rates and Fortis is at stardard rates, come on.
    In Iowa Fortis is too much lower than Golden Rule so ehealthinsurance won’t even quote Fortis there. Try it for yourself in the 50301 zip code.
    You can’t trust ehealthinsurance because their agenda is to always sell Golden Rule by bid rigging. If I was Fortis I would cut off ehealthinsurance off in a second.
    Plus, Golden Rule does not have a dependent conversion priviledge for dependent children. If parents put their children on Golden Rule and a child becomes uninsurable, like my son, they are terminated at a majority age, it’s sad. What parent who understands health insurance would put that dangerous Golden Rule on their children?
    Plus, I notice that ehealthinsurance quotes Golden Rules HSA Saver plan where doctor visits are not covered but refuses to quote Fortis’s Right Start HSA where doctor visits are covered, what’s the deal.
    Ask your “main” person at Golden Rule, I mean ehealth insurance, these questions too. Tell them to stop the bid rigging and be fair with the American consumer.
    I have a ton of more questions too after you get these answered.

  23. Hi Matthew: I heard back from EHI. The main person is on vacation this week as I told you, but they said they should be able to get you answers to your questions by the end of next week.

  24. //BMW 3 series is less this year on average because more people are buying them without the fully loaded options.//
    Isn’t this the same way the Bush administration is faking reports that inflation remains low? To quote some ancient wisdom: “When the king is deceitful, who will not be deceitful? When the king is unrighteous, who will not be unrighteous?”

  25. As I emailed you last Wednesday, Matthew, I know you sent me email, but I accidentally had deleted it because of my stupid mobile device’s UI. I asked you to re-send your eHealthInsurance.com inquiry, so i could try to get it to the right person.
    Perhaps you never got my email, but if you did, this is an uncool move.
    Again, please re-send your inquiry, and I will try to help you.

  26. ehealthinsurance is in the business of getting free advertising by publishing reports.