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U.S. launches healthcare website aims to help people understand the new law and find a health plan. An industry lobby group questions one of its features.

July 02, 2010|By Jennifer Martinez, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — The federal government has started a new website aimed at taking the guesswork out of finding a healthcare plan.

The Department of Health and Human Services unveiled intending to help people navigate their health insurance options and understand the provisions in the recently passed healthcare law.

The website, unveiled Wednesday night in time to meet a July 1 deadline, was a requirement in the healthcare law passed in March. In October, the website will launch a tool that will let people compare the pricing of various insurance policy plans they qualify for, a feature that's receiving backlash from some large insurance companies.

Last month, America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry's Washington-based lobbying arm, sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services voicing concerns with the insurance plan information that may be listed in the upcoming feature. For example, the department asked insurance companies for data about how many claims its health plans deny.

"Providing information about claims denials without providing proper context does not begin to tell the whole story," Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the industry group, said Thursday. He said claims were often denied because a provider sent a duplicate claim or submitted a claim to the wrong health plan.

Currently, the website has a feature that lets people find what public and private health insurance options are available to them based on their circumstances and state they live in. After the user completes a short survey, the tool lists healthcare options they may qualify for.

The site also seeks to clear up confusion people may have about what's changed since the healthcare legislation became law. There is a two-minute video, articles that delve into the law — and even a Twitter account, @healthcaregov.

"The site makes a system that thrived on complication and confusion easier to understand," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the White House blog. "This kind of transparency helps create informed consumers, which increases competition, reduces prices and improves quality."

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