Monday, November 13, 2006

Not Quite Ready for Prime Time…

Belay that line!” In rock-climbing, it means controlling one’s rope to prevent a nasty spill; in insurance, it apparently now means the latest gizmo from the minds of United Healthcare:
According to UHC, working stiffs make up a sizeable percentage of “the uninsured,” and are prime candidates for affordable health insurance. Their latest offering, called “Belay,” is built on a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) chassis, and comes in two models: with an HSA (Health Savings Account) and without. Sold directly to unsuspecting consumers through the Golden Rule distribution channel, these plans appear to directly challenge the notion that HDHP’s are primarily for “the wealthy.”
It’s an intriguing idea, and one which, on its face, appears to be the answer to a lot of prayers: high deductible, low cost, and easy to understand. Initially available only in the Cleveland and Chicago markets, no one can accuse UHC of over-reaching. And certainly, any effort toward reducing the number of folks without insurance at a given time is to be commended.
But I remain underwhelmed.
Why is that, you may ask?
Well, for one thing, Golden Rule has a (well deserved) reputation of being quite stringent in their underwriting. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s not something the layperson would be expected to know. Professional agents do, though, and can offer suggestions about which carriers a given client should be considering. But Belay isn’t available from agents, only directly from the carrier, which could leave consumers worse off if they’re declined.
For another thing, the press release touts how easy it is to sign up: “just click here.” Problem is, that just takes you to the regular GR site; even feeding in a Cleveland address gets one zero info on Belay (is Belay delayed?).
Expect a lot of hoopla surrounding this newest venture (they’re bringing in a professional rock climber for the official “rollout"); what follows should tell us whether or not this is indeed an idea whose time has come, or whether it’ll end up “on the rocks”.


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