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The Health and Human Services Department unveiled a new consumer website Thursday that could undercut the old joke, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." is meant to help Americans figure out what insurance and care options are available to them.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the new site "provides unprecedented transparency into the health care marketplace." It makes comparison shopping for policies easier, she said in a post on the White House blog, and takes some of the mystery out of "a system that thrived on complication and confusion."
The site asks visitors to answer a series of questions about their health and employment status and comes up with a list of options available for where they live. The customized list is drawn from information on 1,000 insurance carriers, every Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program in the country, and the new pre-existing condition plan that every state now has as required under the new health reform law. In October there will be price comparisons online as well.

The full impact of the new health reform law won't be felt until 2014, when insurance companies sell polices in regulated marketplaces called exchanges. is a precurser to the exchanges, which will resemble comparison shopping sites such as Expedia. In addition to health care data, the site is serving as a clearinghouse for information about changes the new law will bring and when they'll kick in.

HHS is asking users to contribute suggestions to make the site better. It's already gotten a good review from Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. He said the site will result in more independent research by consumers and businesses, and more competition among insurers. "Overall, the deal is better customer service from government, and better return for taxpayer dollars, pretty good!" Newmark wrote at The Huffington Post.

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