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Americans put health insurers on the hate list

There are some industries that Americans love to hate. This year, health insurers have joined the club.

They've hit a 10-year low in customer satisfaction, ranking the industry alongside the much-hated airlines and cable companies, according to a new report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Interestingly, individual policies -- those consumers buy on their own behalf -- maintained a stable rating, but group policies suffered a bit hit, according to the ACSI Finance and Insurance Report.

The findings reflect widespread displeasure with health insurance provided through employer-sponsored programs, which remains the most common type of health insurance, covering about 45 percent of Americans. Rising health care costs, as well as employers shifting more of that burden onto their workers, may be largely to blame, on top of a lack of choice, notes David VanAmburg, managing director of the ACSI.

The plunge in satisfaction "is really about the management of cost. It's about the amount employers are kicking in," VanAmburg told CBS MoneyWatch. "That has tended to drop as employers struggle with changes in the health care system."

The 150 million Americans who receive health insurance through their employer or their spouse's employer are not only paying more for health coverage but their deductibles are also on the rise, according to a September report from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Employees now contribute about $4,823 annually for family coverage, a jump of more than 80 percent since 2004, when they contributed $2,661. Over the same period, employers' contributions rose only 69 percent.

Deductibles have reached an average of $1,217, a rise of 47 percent from 2009, the Kaiser study found.

For Americans with group insurance, a lack of choice means they can't shop around for better prices. While VanAmburg noted that it's too early to judge what impact the Affordable Care Act might have on customer satisfaction, people with individual policies rated their insurers at the same level as last year, at 74 points. Customers with group plans rated their insurers at 67 points, down from 72 a year earlier.

Those findings "could suggest the exchanges are stimulating a bit more competitiveness, so that may be what is buoying the individual side and keeping it from dipping, but it's not clear yet," he noted.

Health insurers across the board earned 70 points, ranking just slightly ahead of the airline industry (69 points) and pay-TV providers such as cable companies (65 points) and Internet service providers (63 points.) That makes the health insurance industry the fourth most disliked industry among those tracked by the ACSI, which surveyed about 6,800 people for its finance and insurance report.

Other insurance industries scored better than the health insurance industry, with property and casualty insurance earning 79 points and life insurance receiving 80 points.

Because Americans deal with their health insurance companies more often than property and casualty or life insurance, they have more opportunities for negative interactions, VanAmburg noted.

"The more touch points you have with a provider, the greater the chance something will go wrong," he added.

This year, policyholders ranked health insurers as performing worse on a number of issues, including providing standard medical services, prescription drugs, the ease of submitting a claim and call center satisfaction. Only one topic -- the range of available plans -- from didn't suffer a ding in the ratings.

The report, which also looked at banks and Internet brokers, found that banks slipped to 76 points from 78 points last year, thanks to record-high fees for ATMs and an increasing number of other fees banks levy.

Internet brokerages saw their score rise to 82 points, up from 80 points in 2013. That group includes brokers such as Charles Schwab and Fidelity.

VanAmburg's take on that result: "We love our brokers when the market is doing well."

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