/><a href=HealthCare.gov: Take health care into your own hands  Learn MoreThe web portal Healthcare.gov (@healthcaregov for all you twitterheads out there) went live, launching ahead of its July 1 deadline by hours Wednesday night. HHS deserves props for this site: not only was it delivered ahead of schedule, but it’s spiffy-looking, easy to use, and full of important info to help people get covered.

The website is what it says – a door through which consumers can check out what private insurance plans are available to them, depending on their age, state, current coverage, and health conditions.  There’s also information about public programs, like Medicaid, and how reforms in the new law affect people soon – such as the small business tax credit, high-risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions, and the ability of young people to join or stay on their parents’ plan till age 26.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should. We did a walk-through ourselves yesterday and were impressed by the clear, appealing design, the plain-language navigation to help consumers find out what their options are and, oh yeah, all that information.

In October, a more in-depth version will launch, and will include rates, coverage exclusions and other pricing information—a level of detail we think is critical for consumers looking for insurance options. To our mind, the more information, the better. And we’d like to see the portal move toward standard benefit descriptions that help people make “apples-to-apples” comparisons.

Other things we’d like to see on Healthcare.gov?  We think the website should include all private insurance products, such Medicare Advantage and Medigap plans. Right now, it doesn’t.

And it would be great instead of just describing and giving contact info or redirects to public programs, like state Medicaid agencies, if someone visiting the website could determine whether they were eligible and if so, enroll online.  Downloading an application, printing it out, finding out where to submit it, and getting there is often too many steps in a process that could be moved online. A report by the Urban Institute in January showed that there are 9.8 million uninsured individuals who are eligible for but not enrolled in Medicaid, and a one-stop online enrollment platform on the portal makes a lot of sense to help those people get health care coverage.

We’re glad to see that patient protections in the new law – what the administration’s calling the “patient bill of rights” – are prominent and spelled out clearly on the site.  In the future, we’d like healthcare.gov to point to consumer assistance programs, too, especially non-profit ones, which have a great track record of helping people navigate the system, determine eligibility, and enroll.

And for consumers with medical bills, we also want to make sure that the portal makes hospital financial assistance policies available, prominent, and easily searchable on healthcare.gov. We’re encouraged that there seems to be placeholder language about free and reduced care where more specific policy information will go in the future

Certainly there is room to refine and build. But this is day two. And improvements are already underway. In fact, a banner stretched across the top of every page says “Health care is getting better. So is HealthCare.gov. Help us improve by adding your comments”—this thing is a work in progress. But it’s also a work of progress, one we’ve proudly bookmarked.

–Kate Petersen, Health Policy Hub