Window-Shopping for 2015 Health Plans

Potential Obamacare customers can peek at 2015 prices for the program’s health plans today after the government said it would release a “window-shopping” feature overnight.

The preview feature, added to the government’s revamped healthcare.gov website, is intended to ease pressure on the system by allowing curious consumers a look at prices for health plans a week before enrollment begins. Last year, consumers who tried to use the website were met with errors and delays that prevented millions from signing up for several months.

Challenges are mounting for the second year of enrollment in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as Republicans gained control of Congress last week and the Supreme Court announced it will consider whether a key feature, subsidies to reduce the cost of insurance, should be available to all Americans. The Obama administration, meanwhile, must simultaneously persuade more than 7 million existing customers to renew and sign up millions more uninsured people.

“We have been working in a number of areas to raise the bar,” Andy Slavitt, the deputy director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs healthcare.gov, told reporters Sunday on a conference call to preview the feature. “Our principal focus is to bring people back to the website so they can update their information and shop for the best values. That’s our principal focus, is to get people to come back.”

Confused Americans

Consumer confusion is high about this year’s enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15. About 90% of uninsured people surveyed in October by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they didn’t know when they could sign up for coverage. And about 51% of people who tried out federal and state enrollment systems last year said they wouldn’t return, according to a Nov. 3 Bankrate.com survey.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary