goes live, the government’s central database of health coverage options, went live this week. The site includes information from more than 1,000 private insurance plans and resources for finding public health programs, if a state provides them. “This website is unlike any government website you have ever seen or used before,” said Todd Park, Health and Human Services (HHS)  chief technology officer. 

Price estimates for health insurance plans will be added to the site in October 2010. Adding the costs of private insurance plans along with their covered services, networks and drug coverage and making them available side-by-side adds transparency. Time will tell if it helps drive down costs.

Cost estimates aren’t the only thing missing at the outset. In some cases, health plans provided “incorrect links” for specific plans. HHS recognizes the launch as the beginning and encourages users to comment on the site and make suggestions for improvements. badge

According to an HHS press release, the site is designed to make it easy for individuals and small businesses to compare both public and the private sector health insurance plans.

Considering that many of us are learning what the law does and doesn’t do, there’s a very useful section of the site that explains the 900-page (single-spaced) “Affordable Care Act,” also known as the health reform law, through an interactive timeline depicting what changes under the law and when. There are a lot of changes, and the addition of health insurance “exchanges” in 2014 will be one of the most substantial under the law. The site states that people who are unable to afford buying insurance will be granted an exemption from paying an “offset” fee when the insurance mandate takes effect on Jan. 1 2014. also consolidates some existing resources, including Hospital Compare, a tool created by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, HHS, and the Hospital Quality Alliance that may be a bit unwieldly for some; and, a very easy-to-use tool which provides a broad list of recommended vaccinations and screening tests after you punch in your age and sex.

Kathlyn Stone

Kathlyn Stone is a Twin Cities, Minnesota-based writer who has covered general news, and business, international trade, and health care news and policies for public and professional audiences.