WASHINGTON (AP) — Starting this weekend, consumers can get an early peek at 2015 premiums and plans under President Barack Obama's health care law, the administration said Friday.
HealthCare.gov's second open enrollment season starts Nov. 15, a week from Saturday. But spokeswoman Lori Lodes said that consumers will be able to "window shop" for plans before then.
"Window shopping is ready to go," said Lodes. "There is no log-in or application required."
After answering a few questions, consumers can look at plans in their area and get an estimate of how much their premiums will be, including any financial assistance they would be eligible for.
Consumers will later have to set up an account — or go back to their existing account — to actually enroll for 2015. Current customers who do nothing will be automatically renewed as of Jan. 1, but they may well miss out on potential savings.
The lack of a window-shopping feature was one of the initial problems last year for HealthCare.gov, and a puzzling one.
Most e-commerce sites — as well as Medicare.gov— allow people to browse anonymously and don't require an account until consumers are ready to buy. As originally designed, the Obama administration's website worked exactly the opposite way. That contributed to overloading the balky system because everybody got funneled into creating an account, which overtaxed the system to the point of crashes.
"Our top priority this year is to improve the consumer experience," said Lodes.
One important piece that's still not clear is the overall trend on premiums. Early analyses of states that have published rates show modest increases, with opportunities for consumers to shop around for lower-premium plans. The catch with the low-cost options is that people who have a serious illness or injury will face higher out-of-pocket costs.
The health care law offers taxpayer subsidized coverage to people who don't have access on the job. HealthCare.gov is the online portal for 37 states where the federal government is taking the lead running the insurance markets. The rest are operating their own insurance exchanges.
About 7 million people are signed up this year through the insurance markets. Even more have gained coverage under the law's Medicaid expansion for low-income people, which so far has been implemented by 27 states and Washington, District of Columbia.