Minneapolis, (PressExposure) January 30, 2009 -- With an unstable job market and a continued decline in the number of businesses offering employer-sponsored health insurance, millions of Americans are now seeking health insurance on the private market. In fact, a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that approximately 14.5 million Americans were covered by individual health insurance at some point in 2007.
Many of these health consumers have traditionally looked to insurance agents for help in finding the right health plan with the best possible costs on the private market. But new resources on the Web are allowing some of these consumers to gain a competitive advantage by, in effect, becoming their own agents.
"What we've been seeing in recent years is that consumers are increasingly taking control of their insurance-buying decisions by turning to health insurance Web portals," says Charles Smith-Dewey, founder of Healthinsurance.org, a site that has offered health insurance information for consumers since 1994.
"These Web sites can offer a real advantage over relying on an agent alone to buy coverage," Smith-Dewey says. "Traditionally, when you've dealt with an agent, your choice would typically be limited to the plans offered by the one or two carriers an agent might represent. But portals such as healthinsurance.org often work with multiple carriers, so consumers can see a full range of plans and plan benefits, then compare the benefits and plan costs among various carriers."
Some health insurance portals now offer individuals the ability to get an actual insurance quote based on a their individual circumstances just by providing a few basic pieces of information, including postal zip code, age, gender and marital status. "Through a few quotes, you can put plans side by side to compare actual costs such as deductibles and premiums to get a better sense of which plan is best for you," Smith-Dewey says.
A few portals -- including healthinsurance.org -- even provide quotes without requiring an individual's contact information, allowing them to avoid solicitation by a carrier. "We hear often that privacy is one of the top advantages for folks getting quotes on our site," Smith-Dewey says. "Because our visitors aren't required to provide personal information -- a name, address or phone number -- to get a quote, they know they won't get a flurry of calls from insurance agents."
"If you are asked to provide your name or phone number as a condition of receiving an online quote, it's really important to read the fine print," Smith-Dewey says. "If you're not vigilant, you may unknowingly give a site permission to sell your information -- not just to one agent, but to a number of carriers, each of whom may contact you."
The variety of plan options -- and the option for privacy -- is contributing to what Smith-Dewey calls "an explosion of interest" in Web insurance portals. Visits to healthinsurance.org are currently double what they were a year ago, he says.
But interest also is fueled by consumer awareness that, in general, online transactions are becoming more secure over time. Still, he says, it's important to read the "About Us" section of a Web portal and to "do your homework," before you provide personal information.
Healthinsurance.org is a free online source of consumer health resources, including information about individual health insurance, major medical insurance and affordable medical insurance. The site is not an insurance company or insurance agency. Access to free health insurance quotes, private and online, is available by visiting healthinsurance.org.