Your first pet, first-grade teacher and childhood best friend don’t necessarily have anything to do with your health care needs, but providing three “privacy” questions is part of signing up for insurance at New York State of Health.
That comes before supplying your address, Social Security number and other more relevant details that will be used to calculate which health care plans are available in your area and how much they will cost.
In these early days of enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, just logging in can be a hassle.
No wonder then that some consumers want to examine the plans before they even sign in, as well as before they sign up. Now that the marketplace is officially open, they can. Almost all the offerings of the health insurance marketplace are available at the insurance companies’ websites, with no personal data required.
Western New Yorkers have a choice of plans from Univera Healthcare (Excellus), Fidelis Care, BlueCross BlueShield (HealthNow New York), Independent Health, American Progressive Life & Health Insurance Company of New York and Freelancers Co-op (Health Republic).
At www.fideliscare.org, there is a link for New York State of Health marketplace plans, a direct connection to the state exchange and a link to calculate what your family’s federal subsidy may be. The subsidies are available to most middle-class applicants in various amounts according to income. The user-friendly www.univerahealthcare.com site also includes a calculator for tax credits.
The HealthNow site, bcbswny.com, has brief outlines of its insurance plans’ high points, then directs consumers to nystateofhealth.ny.gov for the details. At the Independent Health site, www.redshirttreatment.com, the health exchange options are found under “Health Plans,” at the bottom of the page, then “2014 Small Group Plans.”
For comparison shopping, most sites give the predicted costs and coverage for two theoretical medical events: having a baby and managing Type 2 diabetes. For example, Independent Health’s iDirect Silver plan would pay $3,290 of the estimated $5,400 cost for the diabetes patient; the patient would pay $2,110.
Univera’s Silver Standard plan would pay $2,240, with the patient paying $3,160; and Health Republic’s Primary Select Silver I pays $3,920, with the patient paying $1,480. The amount of the monthly premiums can significantly affect these costs.
These are only three of dozens of plans available in each of four “metal” colors – bronze, silver, gold and platinum – with a wide range of monthly premium costs and deductible amounts.
The state website provides a side-by-side comparison of the plans, and help is available from trained advisers by calling the toll-free health exchange consumer hotline, (855) 355-5777.
Applicants also can work side by side with a “navigator” to check out their options online at Kaleida Health locations and offices of Neighborhood Legal Services.
All Kaleida locations are open Monday through Friday, with some night and weekend hours; call 859-8979 for an appointment.
Neighborhood Legal Services has more limited times available; call 847-0650 for assistance.
But first, you can watch a walk-through of the process on YouTube, at www.healthbenefitexchange.ny.gov/resource/video-demonstration-individuals-and-families-application.
It shows the fictional Josephine Clark signing up for insurance and explains why certain questions are asked, which answers are optional and how the answers affect the process. The video is about 17 minutes long.
Officials late Friday said improvements since the state marketplace was launched Tuesday have sharply improved the site’s performance. Nearly 65,000 people have visited the site, and the state’s customer service center operators have provided assistance to nearly 14,000 callers.
Donna Frescatore, executive director of New York State of Health, said improvements are being made to the site each day, with servers added each night to enhance capacity and software upgraded. It is being monitored around the clock.