CHICAGO — State officials announced Tuesday that Illinois is giving the public online access for the first time to forms filed by insurers when they set the rates they'll charge, a move that consumer advocates called a step in the right direction.
"We are pleased to provide consumers direct access to review rate and form filings," said Department of Insurance Director Andrew Boron in a statement. Public access online "demonstrates our commitment to protecting consumers by providing assistance and information which fosters a competitive insurance marketplace," he said.
Consumer advocates welcomed the move but said the records are full of technical lingo and the site is difficult to navigate, making it difficult for most policyholders to understand. The website has filings from companies selling property, casualty, health and life insurance products.
"Without knowing exactly what they're looking for, it's unlikely a consumer will find information they need to educate themselves and participate in the process," said Dena Mendelsohn, a health policy analyst for Consumers Union, a public policy group. She said Oregon has made similar information easy for consumers to use and understand.
Still, the shift is hopeful news for advocates who've been pushing Illinois lawmakers for stronger regulation of health insurance rates, said Stephani Becker of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago. Currently, Illinois regulators don't have the authority to deny rate increases that are excessive.
The change announced Tuesday means consumers will be able to search for rate filings using SERFF Filing Access, an online tool developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. SERFF stands for System for Electronic Rate and Form Filing.
"This is a library of past filings. There's no way to compare companies very well," said Becker, adding that the Shriver Center will try to work with the Department of Insurance to make the information more user-friendly.
"Disclosure is great, but the department needs to do more to allow consumers to understand what's in these rate filings," said Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, a group that supports regulating health insurance rates.
Illinois Department of Insurance spokeswoman Kimberly Parker said consumers with questions will be able to call the department for assistance.