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Surprise! Americans raise their insurers' grades

As the Affordable Care Act looks like it might soon be on life support given President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to either repeal or amend it, a new survey is shedding unexpected light on how its recipients view their insurers. 

Americans who buy their health insurance on the individual market rate their insurers almost as highly as those who get their coverage through their employers, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which surveyed more than 9,600 customers during the third quarter. Individual purchasers gave their insurers a score of 71 on a 100-point scale, little different from the 72 given by Americans covered by group plans. 

The findings provide a stark contrast to wider American perceptions of Obamacare, with opinions equally split between 45 percent with favorable views of it and 45 percent who see it negatively, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Trump has said he wants to repeal and replace the law, although after the election he told “60 Minutes” that he would be open to amending the ACA. 

“Those who are being sold individual policies are virtually as satisfied as those who are getting their insurance through employer plans, so yes, one could say that [the law] has been working, up to a significant degree,” said David VanAmburg, ACSI managing director. 

That backs up data released earlier this year from The Commonwealth Fund, which found that 71 percent of Americans who bought coverage through exchanges or received it through Medicaid rated it either good, very good or excellent. However, consumers’ views may change next year when higher premiums go into effect, VanAmburg noted.

“What Trump has been saying is that those premiums are going to skyrocket in some cases,” VanAmburg said. “A lot of what he has talked about hasn’t happened yet.”

Across all consumers, satisfaction with health insurers has increased from a year earlier. The industry received an overall score of 72, an improvement of 4.3 percent, with Aetna (AET) and Anthem (ANTM) tied in first place with scores of 75, the ACSI found. Humana (HUM) matched the industry average with a score of 72, while Blue Cross and Blue Shield received a 71. UnitedHealth (UNH) followed at 70 points, while Cigna (CI) came in last with a score of 67. 

“We’re seeing an industry that has been performing at mediocre levels for a number of years, but it is bouncing back from a low score last year, and everybody is doing better,” VanAmburg said. “It really is a case of things are looking up when there’s increasing uncertainty now about what’s coming.”

As part of the survey, the ACSI also asked consumers about their views on banks and property and casualty insurance. Americans are happier with their banks, which boosted their score by 5.3 percent to 80 points, a gain that VanAmburg said is likely due to technological advancements, such as online banking and apps that make it easier to track money. Property and casualty insurance was little changed at a score of 78.