Obama's Health Website Uses Twitter, YouTube to Help Navigate Benefits

HealthCare.gov is the U.S. government’s effort to help consumers understand how they’ll be affected by the 907-page health overhaul signed into law three months ago.

The website, started July 1 by the Department of Health and Human Services, offers an insurance plan finder, a rolling Twitter feed to distribute information on policy changes (1,260 followers and counting) and YouTube.com-hosted videos of senior citizens, young adults, pregnant women, and disabled people explaining the law’s benefits from the Obama administration’s point of view. It also provides a breakdown of the legislation, Bloomberg’s Businessweek reports in its July 12 issue.

Republicans in Congress have criticized the administration’s use of official communications on the health law as playing politics by using government resources for Democratic Party propaganda. In May, Michigan Representative Dave Camp, the House Ways and Means Committee’s top Republican, called an administration mailing on Medicare changes in the law “blatantly political.”

The site’s purpose is “to help consumers take health care into their own hands,” said Todd Park, chief technology officer at HHS. It’s the first website to pull together insurance options for individuals and small businesses and incorporate public programs and benefits with private insurance.

Spokesmen for Camp and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said they had no comment on the merits of the website.

Overhaul Timeline

In a section called “What’s Changing and When,” users can click through a timeline to find out what the law requires to happen in 2011, or 2014, or later this year. A section on “Strengthening Medicare” breaks out recent developments, such as a $350 million anti-fraud effort.

“I think this is going to be an extraordinarily helpful tool,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Washington-based consumer group Families USA, which supported passage of the health overhaul. “It’ll be the first time in any single place you can find all of the different kinds of insurance coverage that are available to you, both private insurance as well as public coverage.”

That’s the goal. The function to help people find insurance coverage lists the companies that have policies though prices won’t be available until Oct. 1. “We started building the site 90 days ago,” Park said, calling the current version “just the beginning.”

The new website may be a dry run for 2014, when the government will begin supporting insurance “exchanges” that sell health-plan coverage, said Alec Vachon, a Washington-based health care consultant and former Republican Senate aide. “This is health exchange zero-point-five.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Drew Armstrong in Washington at darmstrong17@bloomberg.net.

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