Shopping for health care coverage online

Two months after a rocky launch to the online health insurance marketplace, the Obama administration said the website has been mostly fixed, and it’s expecting more people than ever to log on and shop for coverage.

With all of the options available on the site, it can be hard to navigate what’s what.

According to Alana Schoeffel, a certified application counselor at Gundersen Health Systems, understanding what’s avilable on the marketplace is easier than it seems.

“It’s fairly easy once you get the hang of it,” she said. “It’s just being able to go in, stay in and finish the process.”

There are four different options, or tiers, of coverage people can browse and enroll in. Each tier offers a different amount of coverage, with different premiums, deductibles and available subsidies.

Bronze, the lowest level, covers 60 percent of your expected costs – experts suggest this is a good option for young, healthy people who won’t use their coverage as much. The highest level, platinum, will cover 90 percent of your costs. Silver and gold plans fall in between at 70 and 80 percent, respectively.


But before you feel the pressure to sign up for anything, you can check out all the plans and the subsidies you might qualify for before entering any personal information.  A calculator tool on the site helps estimate the cost of each plan and how much you can save with subsidies.

Those subsidies, however, are only available on the top three tiers – not bronze. Each subsidy varies according to a person’s income level and other variables.

Even with a solid understanding of the options you can choose from, the online marketplace can be hard to navigate by yourself – but there are others like Schoeffel available to guide those who are a little lost.

This week, La Crosse County is offering free session to help people log on and enroll. Counselors and other advisors will be available to answer questions and guide people toward which coverage is right for them.

“With all the changes and everything it’s been very confusing for customers and the community,” said Trish Wavra, assistant manager in economic support at La Crosse County. “What we’re trying to do is be here to do some one-on-one help.”

The sessions will be held 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the county’s Administration Building in the county board room, located in the basement.