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HHS Pushes Competition With Health Insurance Site hopes transparency on health policy costs, claim denials drives down costs and helps consumers and businesses make better decisions.

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When was launched on July 1, it was billed as the only website that comprehensively lists both public and private health insurance options. Since then more than 1.1 million people have visited the site and 32,000 individuals have given their feedback on how to improve it.

These are the facts that we know. What is yet to be determined is how the site will affect the health insurance industry, especially after October 1, when the site will post health insurance plan price estimates as a way for consumers to compare prices in the marketplace.

"The provision of information is actually in and of itself a market force, so if you provide information it does actually change consumer behavior, and change in the consumer will change industry behavior," explained Todd Park, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) chief technology officer who has led the initiative. "In that regard, absolutely, we would hope that empowering consumers with information through does in fact inform the market to be ever more consumer friendly."

In an interview with InformationWeek, Park said the website is meant to be a consumer tool to help individuals and employers make better healthcare decision.

Yet, while consumers use the website to compare prices, the potential to drive price competition and reduce costs among health insurance plans is a prospect that HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius alluded to when she spoke about the site during a July 7 YouTube event with WebMD. "Putting prices side by side is often a good strategy for competition. Companies don't like to be the most expensive plan in the market," Sebelius said.

Currently, the site allows visitors to search for information by entering their state and zip code and answering questions on their health status. In return, the site provides information on health coverage options and ways to access the insurance coverage required. The site includes information on the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), individual health coverage offered by health insurance issuers, Medicaid coverage, and coverage within the small group market for small businesses and their employees.

The site also has yellow boxes where visitors can give feedback and make suggestions. So far, pricing inquiries top the list of requests, according to Park.

"Pricing is the top request that we are getting for how to enhance the information currently on the site, so consumers clearly want it," Park said. "Our interpretation of that is that they want to know more about the affordability of the plan, so on on October 1, you'll see not just some guidance around what your premium estimate could be, but also very importantly your deductible, your out-of-pocket maximum, and other dimensions that are really important for consumers to understand their ability to afford health insurance coverage," Park added.

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