While the federal government prepares to build and operate statewide health insurance exchanges in about half of the states, it also needs to make significant fixes to a Web portal already in operation to help consumers compare health insurance options.

The Healthcare.gov Plan Finder site is a bridge between passage of the health reform law in 2010 and state exchanges, which are expected to start operating in October 2013. Roughly half of the states will build an exchange themselves or in partnership with the federal government, while the feds will handle the task in the other half.

But a new report from the HHS Office of Inspector General finds that the Plan Finder site, which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services operates, is lacking. The agency examined 98 small group products and 94 individual plans offered on the site.

In a summary of findings, OIG writes: “Most private insurers reported data to the Plan Finder. However, gaps exist in CMS’s oversight of private insurers’ compliance with Plan Finder reporting requirements. CMS did not conduct targeted follow-up with insurers that did not report detailed pricing and benefit information. CMS also has not been able to identify the entire population of insurers required to report basic company and product information. In addition, CMS has not asked insurers to certify to the completeness of submitted data in accordance with federal regulation.”

Numerous CMS strategies to monitor data accuracy on the site also are lacking, according to OIG. Inconsistencies in information may confuse consumers, and plans offered were not always available or recognized by insurers’ representatives. “When products and plans were available and were recognized, 81 percent of their data displayed on the plan finder matched the information provided by insurers’ representatives.”

The complete report, including recommendations for improvement, is available here.

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