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Guess who now ranks with America's most hated industries

When it comes to America's most-hated industries, there are a few perennial favorites. Cable guy, anyone?

But one much-maligned industry is dipping ever further in Americans' estimation, slipping to where it's neck-and-neck with two other poorly regarded businesses, the U.S. Postal Service and fixed-line phone service. It's so bad that this industry has only two others ranked below it, pay-TV providers and Internet service providers.

Which industry is slipping farther down the list? That's health insurance, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which interviews about 70,000 consumers annually to get their views on everything from soft drinks to gas stations. To be sure, the health insurance industry has been through a turbulent year as the rollout of the Affordable Care Act divided Americans over issues ranging from government costs to high deductibles.

"The usual suspects have been plaguing the industry, but it's getting worse," ACSI director David VanAmburg said. "High premiums -- no one likes paying high premiums -- slow claims processing and higher deductibles" are among the issues that get consumers upset.

So far, it's somewhat difficult to tell how the ACA has affected consumer views of their health care plans, VanAmburg said. Because more Americans are now buying insurance through the health care exchanges set up by the ACA, it means more people may be getting a taste of the business' complexities.

"The more times you have to interact with someone providing you a service, the more opportunities there are for something to go wrong," VanAmburg said. "The role of the ACA is somewhat murky. Is the influx of new consumers creating some issues here? It's possible."

With more Americans covered by health insurance, that could also be putting a strain on health insurers' ability to handle customer service calls or other issues, for instance.

The parts of health insurance that consumers most dislike include call centers, which receive the lowest ratings out of all customer experience benchmarks, and choice of plans.

The latter may be one area where people covered by the ACA are coming out better than Americans covered by their employer's plan. That's because the ACSI found customers who have bought individual plans -- and have picked from one of several choices -- have a higher satisfaction level than group policy holders.

Buying an individual policy provides consumers with "the ability to purchase a product or service that best fits your personal needs. So, if you're at a company where an employer only offers one policy, that's what you have to take," VanAmburg said.

There may be more trouble looming: With the pending mergers of Humana (HUM) and Aetna (AET), as well as Anthem (ANTM) and Cigna (CI), consumers might feel the speed bumps as these companies combine operations.

"Anytime service companies merge," VanAmburg said, "it's not a good thing in the short term for consumers."

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