Healthcare.gov improvements make information easier to find

Two months after it launched, healthcare.gov on Monday delivered on its promise of easy window shopping.

The improvements made to the troubled website during the weekend included an upgrade of the shopping-without-registering function. Users now can hit the “See Plans Before I Apply” button and bypass the time-consuming registration process.

Just provide your state and county and your age plus the ages of your family members to be covered, then click “next.” All of the possible insurance plans in your county pop up.

The prices provided are the monthly premiums for people who get no tax credit. There’s also another button on the home page that takes you to a tax credit estimator. Anyone earning less than about $46,000 – or about $94,000 for a family of four – will be eligible for some tax credits.

Just as importantly, the new format includes links to provider networks and lists of covered drugs for each insurance plan. That makes it easier to figure out if a plan will pay for visits to your family doctor or for the expensive drugs you take twice a day.

Much, if not all, of this information was available on insurance company websites before, but it took a lot of time and strong Internet detective skills to find it. Now, it’s as easy as a click or two.

The revamped website isn’t perfect. There were still short delays Monday for those trying to enter the section that allowed for registering and buying policies. And there are some major questions about whether all of the information entered by shoppers is getting to the insurance companies.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported 375,000 visitors to the website from midnight to noon Monday, about twice the typical volume for a Monday. CMS also said the wait times also were lower than in the past few weeks.

The application counselor working at Richland Library Main in Columbia helped two people through the process online Monday, and one made it all the way through to a purchase choice, said library spokeswoman Laura Morris. That never would have happened a few weeks ago.