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3 On Your Side: Healthcare Marketplace Browse Feature

jim-donovan-web Jim Donovan
Jim Donovan is a 13-time Emmy Award-winning consumer reporter w...
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By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Just days ago, the administration unveiled a new shop and browse feature on the website so that people could see what plans are available and at what price.  But 3 On Your Side consumer reporter Jim Donovan finds flaws with that too.

“The website has not worked as smoothly as it was supposed to,” said President Barack Obama.

As President Obama promises to fix Healthcare.gov, his administration is touting what it calls improvements in design, specifically a feature that allows you to “see plans now”.

“Americans across the country can type in their zip code and shop and browse,” said White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney.

But the new “shop and browse” feature often comes with the wrong price tags.

“Incredibly misleading for people that are trying to get a sense of what they’re paying,” said industry analyst, Jonathan Wu.

Analysts like Wu, point to how the website lumps people into two broad categories: “49 or under” and “50 or older”.

Prices for everyone in the 49 or under group are based on what a 27-year-old would pay. In the 50 or older group, prices are based on what a 50-year-old would pay.

For example, I ran the numbers for myself.

According to Healthcare.gov website, the cheapest plan that I could enroll in would cost me $194.88 a month with Independence Blue Cross.

But on the Blue Cross website that basic plan actually costs $290.64, an extra $95.76 a month. Forty-nine percent more.

Why the price difference for the same policy?

Well the insurance company needs to know your birthday before providing more accurate estimates.

The numbers for older Americans are even more striking.

A 63-year-old in Philadelphia looking for the same plan without tax subsidies would get a price estimate on the government website of $332.11.  The actual price is 548.92 dollars.  A difference of $216.81 which is 65 percent more.

An HHS spokeswoman said it added the “shop and browse” feature to provide “estimates of premiums without tax credits.”

In addition to giving out much lower price estimates, the shop and browse feature gave me price quotes for even lower catastrophic insurance plans, even though anyone over age 30 isn’t eligible to purchase those plans.