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With more plans available, prices rising, HHS urging exchange customers to shop around


With health insurance premiums on the rise, government officials are stressing the importance for consumers to shop around to ensure they get the best deal.

"More than seven in 10 of our customers can find lower prices by shopping," said Kevin J. Counihan, the chief executive of the federal insurance marketplace, according to The New York Times. "Roughly eight in 10 of our customers can get coverage for less than $100 a month after tax credits."

Millions of people buying coverage through the federal marketplace will need to switch plans to avoid price increases or reductions in the subsidies they received from the government.

The federal marketplace has 25 percent more insurers participating for 2015, and more than 90 percent of consumers will be able to choose from three or more insurers and, on average, 40 health plans in their county for 2015 coverage, according to an announcement from the Department of Health and Human Services. 

In 2014, 85 percent of consumers buying coverage on the federal marketplace received financial assistance.

Premiums for the benchmark second-lowest cost silver plan will increase by 2 percent on average this year before tax credits, while premiums for the lowest-cost silver plan will increase on average by 5 percent, HHS says in a research brief.

However, there's wide variation between states and even regions, and some communities will see double-digit increases, reports The Associated Press, noting sharp increases were common before passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Among state exchanges, an Urban Institute report noted that Colorado and Washington began de-emphasizing auto-renewal, and instead encouraged enrollees to return to the marketplace and shop after analyses showed that was in consumers' best interest. Maryland and Rhode Island are forcing enrollees to go back to the marketplace to re-enroll or be cut off.

Consumers' feelings remain mixed when it comes to shopping for coverage. A recent Gallup poll found most consumers who bought coverage on federal or state market places were happy with the cost and coverage of their plans, which could give rise to consumer inertia when it comes to re-enrollment.

However, nearly two-thirds of Americans in a Bankrate Health Insurance Pulse survey reported that shopping for health insurance is at least as bad as having a tooth filled or doing your own taxes.

To learn more:
- read the NYT article
- find the HHS announcement
- here's the research brief (.pdf)
- check out the AP story
- find the Bankrate survey

Related Articles:
States take varying paths to insurance marketplace re-enrollment
Polls: Marketplace customers happy, 55% of uninsured to sign up
Uninsured rate keeps falling with help from exchanges, data show
Insurers think outside the box to boost Hispanic enrollment