Who's the Best Health Insurer?

Health insurance is one of the trickiest subjects in personal finance. For many, just finding coverage is a challenge. Once you have health insurance, getting the benefits you've paid for isn't always as easy as it should be. Making sure you keep your coverage if you change jobs or move to a different state can be essential to managing your health care costs successfully.

Although many people don't have a lot of options in choosing coverage -- they're stuck with what their employer offers -- you still want to make sure your health insurance company meets your particular needs. Yet according to a recent survey released by J.D. Power, a number of insurers, especially those that trade publicly on stock exchanges, don't do as well as others in providing good customer service.

The best insurers
The survey looked at available health-insurance coverage in four regions of the country. For the most part, private insurers topped the lists in each region. Blue Cross and Blue Shield groups in a number of states performed very well, as did other closely held entities such as Harvard Pilgrim in the Northeast, Wellmark in the Midwest, and Kaiser in the West.

What made these insurers the best was a combination of things that are important to health-care consumers. Offering plans with sufficient coverage and choices of doctors was of utmost importance, as were the procedures in place to facilitate communication and obtain quick approvals for claims. Readable statements, prompt customer service, and efficient claims processing also were important facets of a good experience.

Public insurers trailing
On the other hand, insurers like Aetna (NYSE: AET  ) , Cigna (NYSE: CI  ) , and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH  ) got below-average ratings from most consumers. J.D. Power representatives suggested that one reason might be poor communication and informational resources.

It's important to remember that these companies are at a competitive disadvantage to some of their counterparts. Some private health plan providers are organized as non-profit entities, which benefit from favorable tax provisions. Even among other for-profit insurers, publicly traded companies must pay more attention to shareholder value and short-term performance. Given the advantages that private insurers have, it will be interesting to see whether the recent rise of private equity activity begins to focus more attention on these companies or at least their health insurance divisions.

From a personal perspective, you want the best service you can get at an affordable price. For more on getting and keeping health insurance without breaking your budget, tune in to Motley Fool Green Light, our personal-finance service. You'll not only get the scoop on what coverage you should have but also tap into a vast set of resources that can help you improve your financial life. Signing up for a free 30-day trial is easy and risk-free.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has been struggling with health insurance in the wake of recent moves, but he's getting by. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. UnitedHealth Group is an Inside Value and Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy covers you.

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10/27/2016 4:00 PM
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UnitedHealth Group CAPS Rating: ****