Consumers can now do their health insurance shopping via the healthcare.gov website. On Sunday, the Obama administration announced that consumers can now scout for plans and compare insurance costs and features using the website.
The federal health insurance exchange went live several days later than some people expected and this has something to do with the Department of Health and Human Services ensuring that the disaster that marked the rollout of the Healthcare.gov last years would not happen again.
Officials said that although the functionality that allows consumers to do their window shopping has been ready for a while, they continued to refine and test the technology. The Obama administration was heavily criticized last year because the federal exchange crashed the day it opened.
HHS principal deputy administrator Andy Slavitt said that the website contains more information and is easier to use compared with the one that consumers used last fall.
Those shopping around for insurance plans in preparation for the second open enrollment period under Obamacare will have different options to sort plans. Slavitt said that consumers can compare plans based on the amount of the premium as well as on the size of the deductible.
"We believe consumers are very confident in the subsidies being offered," Slavitt said. "We encourage everybody to see what's available on the website."
Those with special healthcare concerns can also see health plans with special programs for managing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma, depression, heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol. The federal exchange is also marked by a 30 percent increase in the number of insurers that offer plans for 2015.
"New features will give consumers a comprehensive picture of the plans in their area so they can choose the one that's right for them," said Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator Marilyn Tavenner.
Although consumers can already check out the details of the health plans, they can only start buying insurance starting Nov. 15, which marks the beginning of the Open Enrollment period for 2015, which will end on Feb. 15 next year.
Experts said that consumers should compare the offerings of their current plans with those of the new ones as they may be able to find better rates and features. There are 7.3 million people who were enrolled this year but the administration aims for 13 million enrollees for 2015.