Government Website Launches to Assist Americans with Healthcare Choices

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On July 1st, the US Department of Health and Human Services officially launched www.healthcare.gov, a website designed to help Americans get the information they need to make the best choice about healthcare. The site features on-line tools and resources for accessing quality, affordable health care coverage, as called for by the Affordable Care Act.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, “Healthcare.gov helps consumers take control of their healthcare and make the choices that are right for them by putting thepower of information at their fingertips. For too long, the insurance market has been confusing and hard to navigate. Healthcare.gov makes it easy for consumers and small businesses to compare health insurance plans in both the public and private sector and find other important healthcare information.”

Federal health officials say the website - which cost $3.5 million to build - will work as a bridge to help consumers until 2014 when much of the new law takes effect. The site currently provides a basic list of all private health plans that are accepting new customers by state and ZIP code, including government programs Medicare and Medicaid, and the new high-risk pools that provide coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

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For small businesses, the site includes coverage options, such as tax credit programs contained in the new health care law.

In October, a more comprehensive version of the website will be launched that will have extensive benefit and pricing data, including premiums, deductibles and coverage limitations. The site will also eventually include performance data on insurance plans, such as claim rejection rate, how much of the premium revenue is spent on healthcare, and the number of times patients appeal coverage decisions.

There is no enrollment feature for private health insurance on the site. Rather, the site provides the health plans' web links and phone numbers so that consumers can contact a plan directly to apply.

For Twitter users, the site will also provide tweets to keep consumers up-to-date @healthcaregov. This morning, the account had 1164 followers.

"The site makes a system that thrived on complication and confusion easier to understand," said Sebelius on the White House blog. "This kind of transparency helps create informed consumers which increases competition, reduces prices and improves quality."

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