One big stumbling block for HealthCare.Gov, technology experts say, has been the architecture of the site. It has required users to log in before they can browse health insurance options.
This is pretty different from how most commercial sites work; Kayak, for example, doesn't require account creation prior to shopping for plane tickets as does EHealthInsurance with its products.
This is also different from how some states have approached the law. Washington and Kentucky, to name two, both built Web sites that allow users to window shop for health insurance before going through a detailed registration process, that includes entering personal data like income, social security, address and size of family. Others, such as Maryland, adopted a model more like HealthCare.Gov that required shoppers to sign up before seeing their options.
At some point on Thursday though, this changed on the federal exchange. HealthCare.Gov has added what looks to be a new window shopping function to its suite of tools for learning more about the health law. While it does give consumers a bit of new information, it's still too bare bones to give consumers a sense of how different plans stack up.
That will take you to this new page, where consumers can look up the plan options in their area.
For anyone who has spent some time browsing the HealthCare.Gov Web site since its Oct. 1 launch, one of the first things you notice is how quickly this part of the site moves. There isn't a lag going from one page to another; no error messages pop up when you enter in information about yourself.
When you type in some basic information through this process - your age, where you live and who you're buying coverage for - it spits back a screen like this one.
What's available now, that wasn't before, is a list of the options available for every county in the United States and the full price of the premiums for those options. As one warning label on this page notes though, these are the prices without any subsidies.
These don't show the help that people who earn less than 400 percent of the poverty line (about $45,000 for an individual) would get with paying for coverage. For that, HealthCare.Gov directs consumers to a calculator built by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.
The premium compare tool also leaves out other important data, like co-payments and the size of a plan's deductible. That makes it less robust than some of the plan compare functions that exist on states' marketplaces, like this one from Washington.
Washington is able to include data on how much of a premium tax subsidy an individual would get. There is also information on how high deductibles are. That's important: Some plans have a deductible of upward of $5,000.
HealthCare.Gov's premium estimates are also unlikely to be exactly right, judging from the data they request. The site asks you to check a box, indicating whether your age is 49 and under, or 50 and over. That's as detailed as the age information gets. Insurance plans, however, are allowed to charge each person a bit more as they become older. The premiums I'm seeing -- I checked the under-49 box -- likely represent some kind of average premium for younger shoppers, but not a specific price for a 28-year-old such as myself.