Covered and looking for deals, insured Americans shop Obamacare

Reuters

By Curtis Skinner

NEW YORK, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Stephanie Desaulniers is amongthe millions of Americans seeking information on new Obamacarehealth insurance plans launched this week, not because she lackscoverage, but because she's ready for a better deal.

The 26-year-old geologist has health benefits through heremployer, an environmental consulting firm in Cumberland County,Pennsylvania.

"My insurance premiums are going to double next year throughmy work. Part of it is we are switching companies, but even lastyear, we were showing substantial increases," she said in aninterview. "I was hoping I could find something that was alittle cheaper."

President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law aims toprovide coverage to millions of uninsured Americans beginning in2014. The administration launched new online health insuranceexchanges across the country on Tuesday, though technicalglitches and heavy traffic meant that many visitors could notlog on to research the new plans.

While the White House hasn't made a concerted effort to holdup shoppers like Desaulniers as beneficiaries of the law, theyare expected to represent a significant number of Americansseeking insurance on the exchanges.

The Congressional Budget Office expects as many as 7 millionpeople to enroll in coverage in the first year of the exchangesbut has not specified how many already have insurance. Theadministration estimates 2.9 million uninsured will gaincoverage under the law next year.

Over time, as many as 37 million Americans withemployer-sponsored insurance may find themselves better off withthe government-subsidized plans on the exchanges, according to arecent study in Health Affairs.

Enrollment for the new insurance plans runs through March31, but for insured Americans making the switch, the deadlinewill likely come sooner as they must decide whether to go withwhat their employer offers or not. That makes them morevulnerable to the kinds of technical problems that blockedaccess to the exchange sites on Tuesday.

"I was kind of pissed," Desaulniers said of her stymiedeffort to log on. "What are the costs of the premiums and whatis the insurance going to cover? That's what I was trying to geton to figure out, to do a cost analysis. I really need time todo that before I have to enroll."

A Reuters survey of readers who said they had tried toaccess the new Obamacare websites found most were unable to callup data. Out of nine respondents interviewed by Reuters, eightwere currently insured. To share your experience on theexchanges, see: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ReutersExchanges

"I'm pretty excited about the health care exchange becausemy husband needs insurance and I have my own, so I'm reallylooking forward to getting low cost coverage," said GeralynPekarske, 59, from Schleswig Township, Wisconsin. The state'sexchange is run by the federal government.

She was laid off from her human resources job at amanufacturing company after the 2008 financial crash and has hadindividual coverage for years. Her husband, a cancer patient, isinsured through the state's high risk pool that will close atyear's end with the advent of the exchanges.

Their combined monthly premiums cost over $600, with annualdeductibles - or the amount someone has to pay before insurancekicks in - of over $10,000, she said.

"I cringe every time I look at the amount of money thatwe're spending on health care and insurance premiums," Pekarskesaid.

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