Do you need an MBA to pick the right ACA health plan?

Do you need an MBA degree to figure out the new health insurance exchanges?

Just getting online to shop has been tough enough during these early days of the insurance marketplaces launched under the Affordable Care Act, with reports of website malfunctions piling up. But a new study suggests even after they get into the ACA exchanges, consumers will have difficulty picking the policies that will be most cost effective.

Like our self-directed retirement saving system, the new healthcare system is one that requires consumers with varying degrees of expertise and knowledge to make important decisions for themselves.

Researchers from several universities asked a national cross-section of Americans to choose exchange policies that would be cost-efficient for them. The vast majority – 80 percent – failed to choose the best plan.

The researchers also asked students in the master’s of business administration program at Columbia University to shop. They were able to pick the best plan for themselves 73 percent of the time – and 40 percent of them did it by firing up spreadsheets to do some number crunching.

Some people will read the results as yet another indictment of the ACA. But the findings echo what is already going on in the health insurance reform that preceded the ACA – the Medicare Part D program for prescription drugs. Learn more in my column today at Reuters Money.