Feds begin marketing push for exchanges

Benefitspro reports:

“The federal government wants to remind consumers of the health insurance mandate as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and they’re using a consumer-friendly website as a way to do it.

The Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday announced its relaunch of healthcare.gov, a website aimed at informing consumers about the health reform law while giving them a place to purchase insurance. The name of the website is also new, now called Health Insurance Marketplace.

Though exchanges are far from being up and running, feds say this month marks an “important countdown” to significant dates in health reform implementation. Oct. 1 is one of them—when open enrollment in state and federal health care exchanges begins—and Jan. 1 is the other, when the all-important individual mandate kicks in and when exchanges are scheduled to begin operating.

Failure to buy health insurance will result in a fine; the penalty will be the greater of a flat dollar amount per person, or a percentage of a person’s taxable income. For dependents under 18, the penalty is half the individual amount. Per the flat dollar fee, adults can be hit with a fine up to $95 in 2014, and that number will increase to $325 in 2015, and $695 in 2016. The percentage works out to be 1 percent in annual income in 2014, 2 percent in 2015 and 2.5 percent in 2016.

Tax credits will be offered to help families within 400 percent of the poverty level afford insurance.

“This is an historic time for those Americans who never had health insurance, who had to go without insurance after losing a job or becoming sick, or who had been turned down because of a pre-existing condition,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a blog post about the website. “Because of these new marketplaces established under the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans will have new access to affordable health insurance coverage.”

Some 30 million Americans are currently uninsured.

The exchanges set up under health reform are intended to give families and small-business owners “accurate information to make apples-to-apples comparisons of private insurance plans and, get financial help to make coverage more affordable if they’re eligible.”

Healthcare.gov will also give consumers access to their own state exchanges, if they have one. They can also sign up for email and text message alerts.

The website will be part of HHS’s efforts in the coming year to market the new exchanges as the deadline looms. It won’t necessarily be an easy effort—the exchanges have gotten pushback from some Republican governors, some who refuse to set up a state exchange. Others have complained there hasn’t been enough guidance from the government on how to do so. For those that don’t intend to set up an exchange, the government will set up one for them.

So far, 20 states are approved to operate their marketplaces, with 18 running state-based exchanges and two planning to partner with the federal government, according to HHS.

There’s also the huge hurdle of uninformed consumers who are unaware of what the exchanges do and what health reform means for them. But that’s one thing government officials hope the updated website will remedy.

Sebelius promises “the Marketplace will offer much more than any health insurance website you’ve used before. Insurers will compete for your business on a level playing field, with no hidden costs or misleading fine print.”