Meeting a July 1 congressional deadline, the Department of Health and Human Services has launched an initial version of  HealthCare.gov, a Web site to enable consumers across the nation to compare and choose health insurance plans operating in their geographic region.

The site is mandated under the health reform law, called the Accountable Care Act, which was enacted on March 23. To access health plan information, a consumer enters his or her state, characteristics of the household, current medical problems and reason for needing insurance (don't have it, losing employer-offered coverage, etc.). A search for family coverage in western Michigan found 51 plans offered by 17 insurers.

But the availability of information on each type of plan, at this time, is spotty. The site is designed to provide five categories of information on each plan: services covered, physician locator, drug benefits, price estimates, and a phone number and Web address to contact the plan. Many of the plans only have information on one to three of the five categories and none yet have price estimates, which will become available in October.

The federal Healthcare.gov site will acquire more information over time as health plans submit required data and states develop health insurance exchanges.

HHS also has announced the national establishment of a Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, which will be offered until 2014 when insurers are banned from discriminating against adults with pre-existing medical conditions. Each state has a Web site to provide more information and enable enrollment. States or the federal government can host the site; 29 states plus the District of Columbia have chosen to operate the plan while 21 states are having HHS run the plan.

More information is available at healthcare.gov.

--Joseph Goedert

 

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