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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Government Web Site Compares Health Plans

Healthcare.gov Touted as a One-Stop Shop for People Looking for Health Insurance

WebMD Health News

Oct. 1, 2010 -- A new government web site that allows people to compare health plan coverage and prices goes live today.

Federal officials bill the site as the first one-stop place where people can navigate the complex health insurance market. They also tout it as the latest consumer-friendly feature of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s signature health reform law that has been sagging in political polls.

The site, up since July at healthcare.gov, includes information on more than 4,400 plans from 225 insurance companies operating in every state and the District of Columbia, say officials from the Department of Health and Human Services.

But today marks the first time people can directly compare premiums, deductibles, coverage limits, and other aspects of most health plans available in their area. Publicly funded plans like Medicaid and Medicare are also included.

Health insurers were required to submit detailed information for the site as part of the Affordable Care Act. The information covers plans available to individuals and small businesses shopping for insurance on their own. It does not include information for workers choosing between health plans at larger businesses or big companies.

“The point of all this is to put consumers in charge,” HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Parker said during a demonstration of the site.

 

Convenience, Limitations

Although officials pointed to new convenience for consumers, they acknowledged that the site has limitations. It lists starting prices for monthly premiums, prices that often go up if you have a pre-existing illness or disease risk factors.

“It’s the sticker price,” said Karen Pollitz, director for consumer support in the HHS’s Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.

But officials also pointed to features listing the percentage of a plan’s customers who pay more than the base monthly premium, as well as the percentage that apply for coverage but are denied.

That last feature drew criticism from insurers. They said it unfairly inflates the number of people who get denied coverage by including people who were denied because they didn’t live in the plan’s coverage area or filled out the application incorrectly.

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