KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Federal Government Launches New Health Insurance Website

News outlets reported on the federal government's new information clearinghouse for consumers  - healthcare.gov - meant to help patients navigate the health insurance landscape.

CBS News Political Hotsheet: "The White House today announced the launch of HealthCare.gov, which the administration calls a 'one-stop shopping' place for health insurance." HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a blog post that the site will provide "unprecedented transparency into the health care marketplace" (Condon, 7/1).  

NPR reports that the website, which was mandated in the new health reform law, is meant to guide consumers through the process of securing health insurance. "'This is such a huge step forward in terms of somebody being able to sit in their living room, at their kitchen table with a family member, [and] get information where nobody is trying to sell you anything,' [said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.] That's key, says Sebelius. There's no marketing on the site, no soft-sell in the guise of information, just all the options, both public and private arranged for each user personally." On the site, consumers can see all the health plans available to them in their zip code (Seabrook, 7/1).

Government Health IT: "The site is the first central database of health coverage options, Sebelius said, combining information about public programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, as well as plans from private insurance carriers for small employers and individuals. ... The online tool will also be able to connect consumers to quality rankings for local health care providers. Plans also call for the site to provide insurance plan performance information" (Mosquera, 7/1).  

The Washington Post: "Users of the site - HealthCare.gov - will not need to divulge personal information such as their name, address or income. Instead, the site asks a series of questions including age, Zip code, job status and degree of difficulty affording health insurance, then uses a person's answers to produce a detailed list of potential coverage options from among 5,500 private plans.  ... The site also inaugurates a substantial change in the private insurance market. Until now, consumers buying on the individual market and small-business owners shopping for group plans on behalf of their workers have largely had to do their own research or rely on brokers who work on commission and may be unwilling or unable to divulge the complete list of private plans available" (Aizenman, 7/1).

Kaiser Health News: "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, including provisions that bar insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions and establishing new health insurance exchanges, the marketplaces that make it easier for consumers and small business to buy insurance. In a news conference this afternoon, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius rejected criticism that the site was offering a political message. A video on the site touts the new law's benefits. 'Health care really is getting better,' she said. (Galewitz, 7/1).

In a separate story, Kaiser Health News reports that eHealthInsurance is looking to profit from the new law. "The Mountain View, Calif., company's website helps consumers compare prices and benefits of selected health insurance policies." The company is bidding for a government contract to run the enhanced site in the fall. "The contract is expected to be worth $5 million to $10 million in each of the next few years, according to industry sources, and the Department of Health and Human Services could announce a vendor by mid-July" (Galewitz, 7/1).

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