How will 'window shopping' affect coverage choices?

The Obama administration and insurers have been touting low premiums for plans sold on the health insurance exchange, but the ability to "window shop" on HealthCare.gov could impact consumers' plan choices.

The window shopping feature, which was expanded as part of the Nov. 30 reboot to HealthCare.gov, allows consumers check out plans available in their area without first creating an account. The website included the feature before, but among its many flaws, HealthCare.gov only provided prices for people who were either 27 or 50 years old, NPR Shots reported.

As consumers increasingly use the window shopping option on the federal marketplace, they are learning that although premiums may be low, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs are often higher than many employer-based health plans. The new window shopping tool also lets consumers see insurers' provider networks and preferred drugs--features that could weigh heavily on their coverage decisions, reported the New York Times.

Previously, consumers couldn't determine costs like deductibles. And with some exchange policies that include $5,000 deductibles, consumers can choose their health plan based on more complete pricing information.

"Deductibles for many plans in the insurance exchanges are pretty high," Stan Dorn, a health policy expert at the Urban Institute, told the Times. "These plans are more generous than what's prevalent in the current individual insurance market, but significantly less generous than most employer-sponsored insurance."

In fact, a study from NORC, a research organization affiliated with the University of Chicago, found 65 percent of employees in group plans received higher-value coverage compared to gold or platinum plans sold on exchanges. But the study also found 84 percent of individual consumers had coverage that was less than or equivalent to the bronze exchange plans, the Times noted.

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article
- see the NPR Shots article

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