Personal experience with the new Federal Exchange web site

Randall P. Ellis, Professor, Boston University Department of Economics and past president of the American Society of Health Economists.

Today, Tuesday Dec 3, I went on line to check out the new HealthCare.gov web site for selecting individual health insurance. I checked out options for enrolling in the Oxford County Maine. The web page now has a totally new feel and look to it. Most importantly, it allowed me to shop for different plan options without having to first pass through the extensive security barriers which used to prevent people from shopping until they established eligibility. Now, it is attractive and better than the Massachusetts exchange.

I clicked through 50 screens, and dozens of plans in the middle of Tuesday morning with no noticeable delays or glitches. (The Boston University benefits web site gave me more problems in recent weeks.)

The options look terrific to me, although I am covered at work and hence not eligible to enroll through the exchanges.

The premium in rural Oxford County Maine for a 20 year old in the lowest cost option is only $110 per month, without any government subsidy. That is astoundingly low compared to the overpriced policies that were previously available.

I also priced out a gold plan (Community Advantage) comparable to my coverage at Boston University for a family of three. Without any subsidy, that plan would be $1799 per month. The Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Gold Guided Access plan was $2013/month. At BU I am currently paying $1813 per month. So these two plans look reasonable to me in comparison. Of course my employer subsidizes my coverage, and many will be eligible for subsidies from the ACA or their employer.

Also new is the link to the Kaiser Family Foundation calculator, which allows the user to get an estimate of any savings that he or she is eligible for based on income and family size. I played with it for a while, and it worked well. I quickly used that calculator to calculate that a 39 year old in Oxford Maine earning $30,000 per year could expect to pay $3790 per year, and then receive a tax credit of $1278, bringing the total cost to $2512 per year which is 8.37%.

This new interface makes shopping on the exchanges simple and easy to understand.

Although terribly unpleasant, the flaws in the initial Healthcare.gov system promoted awareness and discussion in the media about the new exchanges, which is good. It also encouraged employers to step forward and offer coverage instead of relying on individuals. Both of these are very positive outcomes.

I predict that enrollments through the exchanges by the end of December will be below the initial, optimistic forecasts of the administration, but that millions more will enroll in early 2014 as people fill out their tax forms and are prompted to answer whether they have health insurance. In Massachusetts, that was a greater motivation to purchasing than the end of the calendar year.

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