What kind of information does the new HealthCare.gov Web site
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services'
makes it easy to learn about all of your personal health-insurance
options. The site, created in just the 100 days after the
health-care-reform law was passed, launched on July 1. After you
enter answers to a few questions (such as your state, age range and
health status), the site immediately lists all of the private
insurance plans in your area, as well as public programs you may
qualify for -- such as the new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance
Plan (the high-risk pool created by the health-care-reform law),
any existing high-risk pool in your state, the Children's Health
Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid -- with detailed information
about coverage and eligibility criteria for each program in your
The site also explains the new rules for covering young adults
under age 26 and laws governing job-based health coverage (and
protections if you lose your job or exhaust your COBRA coverage).
And it provides links to hospitals and health-care facilities that
offer free or below-cost health care to low-income people.
This is the first time that all of the public and private
options have been listed in one place and personalized, which was a
major undertaking because some health-care programs are national,
some state-based and some local.
The government used its muscle to gather comprehensive
information about the private health-insurance programs, which had
been difficult to navigate in the past. The site includes more than
1,000 insurance companies with more than 5,500 plan offerings. Type
in your zip code, and you'll see a list of each company offering
health insurance in your area. Click on "View Plans" next to an
insurer's name to get a list of plans you can buy from it. You'll
also see links to the insurer's list of services covered, provider
network (with the insurer's tool to check for your doctors), drug
coverage and more information.
If any of the links that an insurer provided did not include
useful information, the site's creators put "Correct Link Not
Provided" in that topic's allotted space. "When we made our first
request [to insurers], we got some good information and some
sketchy information," says Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services. "We told them they'd be
side by side with their competitors, and they stepped up their game
a bit. I'm a believer that competition starts with transparency,
and it's hard to get a competitive market if people don't know what
it looks like."
The site doesn't include pricing information for private plans
yet -- that's slated to be added in October. And even then, the
prices won't be precise because insurers can base premiums for
individual and small-group coverage on people's medical conditions
until 2014. But you'll still be able to get an idea of how their
standard rates stack up against each other. And you'll eventually
see each insurer's "medical loss ratio," which will show the
percentage of the insurer's premiums spent on medical expenses
versus administrative costs.
HealthCare.gov is a great first stop for anyone who is searching
for health-care options. But you'll still need to explore further
to do a comprehensive search for health insurance. To get price
quotes based on your specific health condition and to buy a policy,
you can go to
, contact a local health-insurance broker (you can find some at
) or contact the insurer directly. But by going to HealthCare.gov
first, you'll know whether there are other insurers in the area
that don't appear at eHealthInsurance.com or aren't sold by your
Your state insurance department may include pricing information
for insurers doing business in the area on its Web site (you can
find links to state insurance departments at
). The state site may also have market-conduct reports and
complaint ratios for insurance companies, which can help you avoid
companies that have a history of hassling people at claim time. You
can also check complaint ratios (the insurer's U.S. market share of
closed complaints compared with the company's U.S. market share of
premiums) at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners
. And you can find some additional information about public
programs available in your area at
If you visit HealthCare.gov, please share your experience in the
comment box below.