open for window shopping

WASHINGTON – Nov. 10, 2014 – The federal health insurance exchange went live Sunday night for window shopping – a couple days later than some expected – as government officials worked to refine their technology and their message to one encouraging people to re-enroll to save money when they can buy plans Nov. 15.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is trying to prevent a repeat of last year’s disastrous rollout of, an experience that many newly insured consumers may want to avoid going through. HHS principal deputy administrator Andy Slavitt said the window shopping “functionality has been ready for a while … (but) obviously we’ve been continuing to test it.”

The launch comes two days after the Supreme Court announced it would reconsider a lower court ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act’s system of subsidizing the insurance coverage. Slavitt said Sunday that the administration isn’t worried.

“We believe consumers are very confident in the subsidies being offered,” he said on a call with reporters. “We encourage everybody to see what’s available on the website.”

And although “things will not be perfect,” shopping around will be “simpler, faster and more intuitive” this year, said Kevin Counihan, CEO of

HHS is emphasizing the importance of re-enrollment to get the best deal and to update subsidies.

Despite any potential glitches remaining, experts in and outside the government say both uninsured and newly insured people need to compare their current plans with new offerings, as many will be able to find better rates and plan features.

“There are a lot of changes that are price declines,” said Katherine Hempstead, director of insurance coverage at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “But … people need to look at the whole plan design.”

For some, a small premium change may be less important than out-of-pocket costs required for specialist visits, she said.

A majority of the newly insured would save on premiums if they looked for a new plan in the same platinum, gold, silver or bronze level they are grouped in, Slavitt said.

Copyright © 2014 USA TODAY, Jayne O’Donnell

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