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Let's Make Health Insurance Transparent and Understandable

In fact, the more involved people feel -- and the more active people are -- the more united the country will be throughout 2016, vis-à-vis the purchase of coverage and compliance with the Affordable Care Act.
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If, according to Albert Einstein, the hardest thing to understand in the world is the income tax, then a close second is the health insurance industry; because, even with a scientific background, this discipline is far from intelligible, and about as abstract and foreign—it is almost as remote and cumbersome—as anything Einstein could have imagined.

At least one thing about this subject is, however, certain: The Affordable Care Act (or "Obamacare") is not immune from inflation, that 91 percent of the rise in health care expenses, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), involves an increase in the cost of drugs, prolonged hospital stays and medical devices.

Without a way to curb these costs, while ensuring there will be no diminution in the quality of care patients receive, we will remain in the red, so to speak.

Unless we stanch this financial bleeding, and until we acknowledge the economic consequences of a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices, we will nonetheless need to apply a financial tourniquet to a very serious problem.

Please note: I do not write these words as a critic of or a partisan for or against Obamacare.

Instead, I believe the inflationary pressure on health care will continue to exert a negative impact on the consumer price index (CPI), unless we find a way to lower insurance premiums, slow the rate of budgetary increases in general and educate the public about these issues in particular.

Hence the title of the JAMA study, "The Anatomy of Health Care in the United States," which offers an examination of the factors—an impartial monetary review akin to the anatomy lesson that is an integral part of every medical school curriculum—because, without credible experts to inform and guide us, we will be unable to address a series of imminent milestones, including the implementation of the employer mandate and rising penalties for violating the individual mandate.

2016 is, in other words, the year Obamacare becomes a pocketbook issue with measurable consequences nationwide.

Estimates vary about price increases, which readers can review here.

But, regardless of one's position concerning this law, ignorance of its requirements is no defense from breaking or pretending to be immune from its enforcement.

According to Patrick Quigley, CEO of Healthplans.com:

"There must be greater transparency about health insurance plans so we can end the confusion about how much plans truly cost at the end of the day, with both premiums and out-of-pocket costs factored in."

A recent poll by Healthplans.com revealed that one-third of respondents were surprised about an out-of-pocket cost associated with medical care.

The problem lies deeper, however.

"When 89 percent of respondents do not know what the deadline is to get health insurance, we need to do a better job of providing consumers with the information they need," Quigley said.

"Consumers need an easy-to-use solution that addresses basics, like plan costs, and plan dissatisfaction, which we saw in a quarter of our audience we polled."

I share this sentiment because, based on my work in the laboratory and in my efforts to translate that toil to the public or my peers, clarity commands its own elegance.

Put another way, and in a further tribute to Einstein's legacy, brevity is not only the soul of wit; it is the formula (E = mc), the catchphrase, the map or illustration, or the signpost that makes the restrictive relevant, the impenetrable accessible and the opaque open for popular discussion.

Applying these principles to health insurance can assuage the anxieties of consumers, and streamline some of the redundancies of the system as a whole.

In fact, the more involved people feel—and the more active people are—the more united the country will be throughout 2016, vis-à-vis the purchase of coverage and compliance with the Affordable Care Act.

That goal is as achievable as it is urgent.

With accuracy as both a directive and a destination, we—and the economists, academics and sales professionals among us—can transform this undertaking for the better.

That mission is our summons to action.

It is our call to education and personal empowerment.