Okay, here we go. How to find health insurance options on www.healthcare.gov:
The main page offers you two slightly different ways to start. You can click the first tab (the blue tab) that says "find insurance options." Or you can go to the large, slightly lighter-blue box below the tab and immediately choose a state from the drop down menu. Both methods will take you to the same new page. The only difference between the two methods will be that if you didn't choose a state when on the main page, you'll need to do so on the second page; while if you did choose a state, your first question box is already filled in. The second question will ask you to select what "best describes you": a family with children, a healthy person, a person with a pre-existing condition, etc. Once you've made your selection, you'll hit "next" at the bottom of the page. You'll continue like this through a series of questions designed to refine your insurance options. At the end, you'll be presented with your list of insurance choices.
I filled out the questionnaire several different ways and my insurance options did change depending on how I answered the questions. One time I might get four choices, the next six. I really liked that even after you chose an option to investigate further, your original list of options showed to the left on the new screen, so you could choose a new option without having to use the back button. Also note that once you're on the initial page for one of your options and click the "visit website" button for even more information, the new site will open up in a new window, so you won't lose your 'place' at wwww.healthcare.gov. And, if you leave that new window open, go back to your place at healthcare.gov, choose a new coverage option, and click on its "visit website" button, you'll get an additional new window, giving you essentially three open windows. Very nice if you want to compare information on your choices, but also potentially confusing if you forget which window goes with which choice.
A couple of the choices usually involve possible coverage through work, and the 'visit website' buttons take you to the Department of Labor which gives you information on your rights -- like what to expect from COBRA coverage. One choice I couldn't figure out was "Special Options for Individual Health Insurance." This choice talked about conversion coverage and its 'visit website' button takes you to The National Association of Insurance Commissioners & The Center for Insurance Policy and Research. From their page you choose a state which takes you to the main web page of that state's state insurance website, rather than specific information on conversion coverage. Maybe I don't understand conversion coverage well enough and I'm missing something. Or maybe this is a part of the health care bill that hasn't gone into effect yet. Or maybe healthcare.gov doesn't have this particular link fully functional yet. Notice on the right on your options page on healthcare.gov, just above the big box talking about your options, a link to more information about how this insurance search tool will improve over time.
The links that offer the most information are the 'Health Insurance Plans for Individuals & Families" and "Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP)/High Risk Pool". These two links/insurance options give you specifics on the different available insurance plans, and these are the two options that make use of the question about what state you live in.
When you choose "Health Insurance Plans for Individuals & Families," the new page gives you some information on how insurance companies work, includes a link to Indiana's State Insurance web page (I wouldn't bother with this link unless you already know what you're looking for), and gives you an overview of how the online search tool for available plans works -- yes, this is a different tool from the one you used to get here. Once you're ready, click the "Get started" button, fill out the requested information and click the "Submit button" at the bottom of the page. Next you'll need to select your county and hit "Submit" again. You'll get a list of insurance programs and a whole bunch of options to narrow your list.
When I searched as a healthy individual needing insurance, I got a list of 273 possible insurance programs. Wow, that's a lot of plans, but the page also offers me a lot of available tools to narrow the results list. First, if you really want to scroll through all 273, you can, just keep hitting 'next page' and scrolling down. Ten plans are displayed on each 'page' and unfortunately I couldn't find anywhere to change that number; however, I could sort the results by choosing which of four criteria was most important to me in a plan: out-of-pocket limit, monthly premium estimate, annual detectable, or enrollment.
The tools for narrowing the results are just to the left of the results list and those remain no matter how far into the results list you go. There are six limiters and below each one is the list you select from...clear as mud? For example, one limiter is "Annual Deductable." Below it is a list of deductable ranges. It starts at 'Up to $500' and goes all the way to '$10000 & Above.' Whichever range you choose changes your results list to just plans with deductibles within that monetary range. Same process applies for all of the limiters -- except for "Show Companies." This limiter lists all of the companies offering plans from your results list and you can select as many or as few companies as you choose.
Also, notice the minus (or plus) sign beside each of the six limiters. That sign opens or collapses the choices under the limiter -- plus meaning it's closed and there's more to see and minus meaning it's open with nothing hidden. So, if a limiter is open but you're not interested in using it, you can click the minus sign and collapse it to just the limiter name, neatening up your limiter list. Another handy feature is the numbers in parenthesis beside each selectable choice. That number represents the number of results you'll get if you limit your list using that choice, and those numbers constantly change based on the choices you make. Once you've narrowed your results by any of the choices that only allow you one selection, you will always have the option of returning all of the choices to your list by clicking "Show All..."
On to the information offered on each insurance plan... Each plan is listed in a separate blue box. You get the name of the plan and the insurance company along with basics of the plan like annual deductable, out-of-pocket expense, doctor choice, and percentage of people denied entrance to the program. Clicking the "Plan Details" button or on the name of the plan will take you to more in-depth information. Each plan I looked at had a link to the plan's website as well as a direct link to their doctor search page. There are also links to drug formularies where available.
Lastly, you can pick up to three plans to compare side by side. Mark the box where it says "click to compare" just below the "Plan Details" button. The plan's name will appear at the top of your list. You can go from page to page on your list and not lose your plans marked to compare. Once you've reached the limit of three -- though you don't have to choose three -- you can click on "Compare These Plans" and your choices will appear in a chart that lets you see things like their deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses side by side.
I still haven't covered finding coverage for people with medical issues, but I think this is more than enough information for one blog, so stay tuned for part three of "Using Www.healthcare.gov!"