HHS Unveils Insurance-Shopping Service and Pre-Existing Condition Plan

This week, the Obama administration launched Healthcare.gov, a new health-insurance-comparison website, and unveiled a new insurance plan for Americans who can't find affordable coverage elsewhere due to their pre-existing conditions.

Consumers who purchase their own health insurance got their first look at what healthcare reform may mean to their bottom line with the launch of Healthcare.gov, a health-insurance-comparison website. The Obama administration also unveiled a new Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, designed to cover uninsured Americans with pre-existing health conditions until 2014, when new insurance provisions are slated to kick in.

Healthcare.gov, managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, allows consumers to choose from among 5,500 public and private health-insurance plans, as well as state and federal government insurance plans, based on their individual circumstances. The site doesn’t require consumers to input personally identifiable information, such as name or annual income. Instead, plans are chosen for comparison based on a consumer’s age, where the person lives, employment status and other factors.

Healthcare.gov doesn’t provide side-by-side price comparisons yet. For now, individuals have to click on insurance plan links for a complete rundown of premiums, deductible, co-pays and benefits. The government plans on introduce price comparisons and charting capabilities in October.

This video walks consumers through the process of shopping for health insurance plans.

The site launches at a time when premiums and out-of-pocket costs on private health-insurance coverage are skyrocketing. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 77% of people surveyed who purchase their own insurance are facing an average premium increase of 20%. The survey also found the average annual premium for individuals was $3,606. (The premium on family coverage was $7,102.) Average out-of-pocket costs were $924 for individuals and $2,688 for families.

Pre-Existing Condition Coverage Opens for ApplicationsStarting Thursday, individuals in 21 states can apply for the new government-run Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan through the Healthcare.gov website. The HHS gave states the option of running their own plans, or having the federal government administer the plan. As of this week, 21 states opted for the federal-run program, while 29 states and the District of Columbia chose to operate their own programs. (States opting out of the federal program are expected to begin accepting applications to their own plans by the end of the summer.)

The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan will cover primary and specialty care, hospital care, and prescription drugs. Eligibility is not income-based, and a plan participant will pay a premium that is “not more than the standard individual health insurance premium in their state for insurance that covers major medical and prescription drug expenses with some cost-sharing,” according to a statement by the HHS.