A glimpse at insurance costs under Obamacare exchanges

    Barack Obama

    President Obama puts his hand to his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance at the 102nd Abraham Lincoln Association banquet in Springfield, Ill., in 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

    The Obama administration wants to give consumers a preview of the prices they’ll pay when they log on to buy health coverage next week.

    Six days before the beginning of open enrollment for the health insurance marketplaces, the new report offers the anticipated average cost of premiums by state.

    The marketplaces, previously referred to as exchanges, are a mainstay of the Affordable Care Act. Each state will have one for individuals and small-business owners to compare and shop for health plans. Consumers shopping on their own — without the help of an employer — will also go to the marketplaces to learn if their income qualifies them for subsidies or other health programs, including Medicaid.

    Among the 36 states with federally run exchanges, the report found the average number of plan options is 53. The average for Pennsylvania is 56, 29 in New Jersey and 19 in Delaware. The actual number of options may be very different from county to county in each state.

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    Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said he doesn’t think shoppers will be overwhelmed by the number of choices.

    “We have requirements that there be a meaningful difference between the types of plans that are available,” Cohen said. “We have taken steps to make sure that there are plans that do not look too much alike.”

    As for more specifics of the plans themselves, Cohen said the federal Department of Health and Human Services is still finalizing the details with insurers. Shoppers will have to wait until next week to see exactly what individual prices and options will be.

    “All the information will be available on healthcare.gov,” Cohen said.

    Federal officials said, once again, they expect the marketplaces for individuals and small businesses to open on time beginning Oct. 1.

    The health plan on the marketplaces are “qualified” to make sure each networks offers an adequate number of health care providers.

    In Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, state regulators have also maintained the right to review the plans.

    Cohen, a former state insurance regulator, said states historically have done a good job with this oversight responsibility.

    “They think it’s very important that consumers in their state have access to providers and hospitals,” Cohen said. “They certainly don’t want to get a bunch of phone calls from people who have coverage but can’t get health care.”

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