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lee.jpgMost health insurance plans offered on the state exchange will now feature quality ratings, giving consumers a better idea about their past performance.

Covered California, the state exchange, announced Tuesday that it recently incorporated the quality-rating system in its website, with marks ranging from four stars for the highest performers down to one star for the lowest.

Federal law requires the rating of plans, but officials here noted that the rating system's California debut comes about two years ahead of the mandate. Executive Director Peter V. Lee said his exchange is among the first in the nation to offer consumers a quality-rating system.

"We want to give consumers all the available tools to help them assess and choose plans in their regions," Lee said. "We are proud of the ratings in each of the exchange plans and recognize this is a preliminary look at exchange health plans."

Lee previously expressed concern that incorporating the ratings for some plans and not others would dissuade people from enrolling. His original recommendation called for implementing the ratings system for all plans offered on the exchange during open enrollment in 2015.

Health policy groups and highly-rated plans suggested the exchange simply add language to those plans explaining they had yet to receive any ratings. They sided with exchange board members who strongly recommended adding the ratings as soon as possible.

"We are pleased that those are in place and that folks can take advantage of it," said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California. He also expressed gratitude that the exchange "didn't go down the path that everybody got four stars."

Ratings are a key tool for customers and an important signal to insurers, Wright said. As the exchange and insurers begin negotiations for next year's plans, insurers know that the exchange will look at consumer ratings as well as price, he said.

The ratings, based on consumer experiences, will be familiar to users of Amazon and Yelp where customers assign grades to products, movies and restaurant experiences. In this case, each insurance plan in the marketplace is compared with plans across the western region of the country.

Scores come from the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems. Four-star plans placed in the top 25 percent of all of those rated. Three, two and one stars were awarded to plans ranking 50-to-75 percent, 25-to-50 percent and 0- to-25 percent, respectively.

PHOTO: The executive director of Covered California, Peter V. Lee, speaks to members of the media during the launch of Covered California in Rancho Cordova on Oct. 1, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.


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