With only two months left before health insurance exchanges officially open for enrollment, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services unveiled on Monday the latest step it's taking to prepare.
Its website, healthcare.gov, now allows consumers living in the 34 states with a federally-run exchange to start the enrollment process by opening a personal account with simple information, including state of residence, age and whether they can obtain health coverage through their employer, the Associated Press reported.
Although the news doesn't necessarily sound like a dramatic step, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reports that allowing consumers to create a personal account will help draw more interest in the online marketplaces, reported Kaiser Health News.
Sebelius admitted the agency still has work to do before the exchanges open, but she assured reporters it's "on target and ready to flip the switch on Oct. 1."
A day after the HHS announcement, WebMD said it launched its own consumer guide to the healthcare reform law that particularly aims to educate the public about exchanges. The leading online health site said its "Health Care Reform Center" would be one of the most comprehensive consumer guides available.
"Many people entering the exchanges will be exposed to insurance for the first time," Lisa Zamosky, a WebMD health policy expert, told USA Today. "We're going to break it down in a very basic way."
She added that WebMD's information is "pretty apolitical." For example, it will explain that consumers need their Social Security numbers, income levels and a basic understanding of their expected costs when searching for plans on the exchanges.
"You can love it, you can hate it," Zamosky said. "It's the law. It's happening."