Researching health insurance options can be a headache-inducing task for small-business owners. In November, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services introduced a tool to ease the pain. HealthCare.gov includes information from more than 530 insurers about more than 2,700 coverage plans available in all 50 states. The site provides summaries of cost and coverage for small groups and their options for deductibles, co-pays and benefits.
Created under the requirements of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, the site asks users to input basic information about location, type of coverage needed (for up to 50 employees) and the people who would be insured. It then provides a list of options, with estimated prices and provisions. Users can filter results based on whether the plans are Health Savings Account eligible; have prescription drug, mental health or maternity coverage; or offer coverage for domestic partners.
Benefits consultant Pat Haraden, principal of Longfellow Benefits in Boston, gives the tool a thumbs-up, but suggests comparing notes with an insurance broker who is knowledgeable about each state's options and able to provide more accurate pricing than the estimates provided by HealthCare.gov.
"They could give you the sort of back story on the plan, letting you know whether the doctors and hospitals your employees need are in the plan, or whether there's something else about the plan that you need to know to make the right decision. The broker can help you match the plan to your company's needs," he says.
Be aware that brokers may have loyalties to certain brands, so their guidance should be just one piece of the information-gathering process.