Healthcare.gov

Important Note This article was initially written in July, 2012 when the talk about “Obamacare” was just beginning. The Healthcare .gov site has changed dramatically since then as the “Affordable Care Act” has been released, at least for sign-ups (such as it is…). We will link to a new review of the site once the system has become stable and is working properly.

The old Healthcare.gov, with the tagline “Take health care into your own hands,” was a product of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It was initially designed to provide information, tools and resources regarding the new, and not yet implemented, “Affordable Healthcare Act.”

Nevertheless, the site did offer a lot of information — including the full text of the new health care act (all 2700 or so pages!) — and provided some tools you may have found useful even though the plan does not go into effect until 2014. The site had a clean, clear design and was easy to navigate, as described in Highlights of Healthcare.gov. We also offer sections on our Favorite Feature and some Frustrations.

Perhaps after all the confusion about sign-ups and enrollment has become a thing of the past this site will once again offer some useful information about where you can find help with your medical needs even if you are not insured.

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Highlights of Healthcare.gov

Healthcare.gov is organized into five major sections:

Find Insurance Options: This section leads you through a simple questionnaire to determine a set of possible healthcare insurance options that may work for you. Depending on your situation, these options may include private insurance for individuals or families, Medicaid, health insurance through your or your spouse’s employer, the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP)/High Risk Pool, and Finding Care You Can Afford. For each option there is a button to link you to further information, sometimes on other government websites (such as the IRS or the White House).

Get Help Using Insurance: This section provides access to resources that will help you determine if your health insurance company has requested a rate increase, find out where to get answers to specific questions and what you can do if you have a claim that has been rejected and you want to appeal the case, see a consumer’s guide to the new Act and how it affects you, get more information about a variety of free or low-cost care options and programs, learn more about Medicare and Long-Term Care, and find information specific to the self-employed and small and large businesses.

The Health Care Law and You: For some light summertime reading you can peruse the entire Health Care Act, though we can’t guarantee you will understand it any better once you’ve attempted to read through it. You can also read selected highlights of the act, see a timeline of when various changes take effect, learn how the plan may affect your particular demographic, and discover how the law is being enacted in different parts of the country.

Comparing Care Providers: This section essentially links you to the appropriate sections of the Medicare web site to be able to get information on, and compare, various care providers including physicians, Hospitals, Nursing Homes, Home Health Agencies, and Dialysis Facilities. Though we didn’t find much information about individual doctors (other than whether they accepted Medicare patients….) there was useful information about different types of health care facilities.

Prevention and Wellness: directs you to information about preventive services that will be available under the new law.

Favorite Feature

Finding Care You Can Afford is a category that appears in many (if not all) the selections offered after you fill out the brief questionnaire under the Find Insurance Options tab at the top of the site’s opening page. It links you to a site managed by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), also part of the Department of Health and Human Services. This is an excellent site. It provides a database of local health centers and clinics which are federally funded and which provide a variety of services including prenatal care and baby’s vaccinations, general care, prescriptions, and care for some serious conditions. These facilities provide treatment whether you have insurance or not and their fee is based on your income. You can click “Find a Health Center” and enter an address or place and you will get a list of centers near you.

Frustrations

Misleading Information: There is no section on issues or potentially negative costs and consequences of the new law, which will likely be extensive. There is a section called “Blog” which is actually a series of enthusiastic articles about various aspects of the new law but comments and questions are not provided for. It is possible to submit feedback about specific pages but that is not published and it’s not clear what happens to those comments.

Premature Expectations: Though most of the law will not be enacted until 2014, favorable aspects are too often described as if they were available today. For example, under the “Newsroom” heading there is a section which discuses your right to appeal if your health insurer has denied you payment for a particular service. It outlines the steps you must take to dispute the decision and appeal to the insurer, or in some cases to request an independent review. Step by step instructions are helpfully included. The Catch: If your plan existed on March 23, 2010, it has been “grandfathered” and is not subject to the new rules. So unless you’re on a fairly new plan, this feature will be of no use to you.

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