SALT LAKE CITY — Americans can now compare insurance alternatives before the launch of the health insurance marketplace in the fall, thanks to a new website., launched Monday, allows individuals to make "apples to apples comparisons" of health care options and see if they qualify for tax breaks to lower their premiums, according to Gary Cohen, deputy administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and director for the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.

“The tools that we’re announcing today are part of a series of steps we’re taking to ensure that Americans can take advantage of the new health coverage options coming their way this fall," Julie Bataille, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services communications office, said Monday.

The Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan group that conducts analysis for the government, estimates that 7 million Americans will opt for marketplace coverage when it becomes available Oct. 1.

In 2009, 16.7 percent of Americans did not have health coverage, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, compared with 14.8 percent of Utahns. One aim of the Affordable Care Act is to reduce that number.

People can check their tax credit availability — determined by income levels and numbers of individuals in the household — on the website, Bataille said. Only those who choose marketplace coverage can take advantage of the tax credit.

Consumers can access checklists, videos and other resources to help them navigate the selection process, she said.

Later this summer, people can create an account and submit applications that will allow them to shop for plans they can afford, Bataille said.

Other features include a 24-hour online chat service and consumer call centers. The call centers are available in English and Spanish and for translation in 150 languages. received hundreds of calls and chats by midday Monday, she said.

Between now and the end of September, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will provide educational outreach throughout the country, using various community health centers, Bataille said. They will also focus on stationing representatives in rural areas to educate and enroll residents.

Consumers can receive personalized information for healthcare by answering a series of questions on the website, whether they choose to participate in marketplace coverage or pursue other coverage options, she said. However, those who do not participate in marketplace coverage are not eligible for tax credits.

Marketplace is a health care option provided by the federal government that offers comprehensive care including pregnancy, pre-existing conditions, doctor's visits and prescriptions.

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Consumers will need to check with state offices to determine whether specific providers accept Medicaid, Bataille said, because the website does not provide that information.

The site is primarily for consumers who plan on participating in marketplace through Health and Human Services and will link to states that have their own websites and care plans.

By the time the marketplace launches Oct. 1, trained individuals will available in communities to assist people with questions, Bataille said.

The website is run by the federal government and the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


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