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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, May 26, 2005

Web site assists uninsured

By Brian Tumulty
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON — America's 45 million uninsured have a new tool for finding health coverage.

The National Association of Health Underwriters has rolled out a new Internet site that provides state-by-state information on coverage options for many situations — including job changers, high-risk people unable to obtain traditional insurance and the poor.

"We get consumer inquiries every day," said Janet Trautwein, vice president of government affairs for the Arlington, Va.-based association that created the new Internet site.

The new site, www.nahu.org/consumer/healthcare, is helpful to a computer savvy consumer who understands insurance terms.

That's especially the case if it is used in conjunction with other Internet sites, such as www.ehealthinsurance.com that provide price quotes on individual policies and the consumer health insurance information provided by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, www.healthinsuranceinfo.net.

Every three years an average of one in four adults loses employer-based health coverage because of a job change, an employer's bankruptcy or another life event such as early retirement or a divorce, according to Georgetown's institute.

Unfortunately, the typical uninsured person often does not have home access to a computer or the sophistication to understand the differences among programs, according to healthcare professionals who specialize in the uninsured.

Even so, several community health professionals and think tank experts agreed in telephone interviews the new Internet site does have some value.

"Information is always helpful," said Joseph Antos, a scholar in healthcare at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

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Antos said the Internet information could assist professional caseworkers and concerned relatives of the uninsured.

The Georgetown site — which has been around since the late 1990s — does a better job explaining medical terminology to consumers than the new offering from the insurance underwriters, according to Linda Blumberg of the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank. "It gives the best information available on insurance regulations," said Blumberg. "The truth is, there are limited options to a lot of people in terms of affordability and what their specific health situation is."

Gary Claxton, vice president at Kaiser Family Foundation, agreed that the Georgetown site is more consumer-oriented.

For people with pre-existing health problems, the new Web site lists the 32 states that have high-risk pools.