In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Now You Can Go Window Shopping For Obamacare Coverage

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AP Photo

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added Thursday a premium estimation tool to the marketplace's website. By answering a few questions -- What kind of coverage are you looking for? How many people are you buying for? -- consumers can see specific plans available in their area and an estimated monthly premium.

This is just basic information -- and users still need to complete the application to receive official prices -- but it addresses a significant concern from the marketplace's bumpy rollout.

"This tool provides a user-friendly way to see high-level plan information with examples of pre-tax credit prices," HHS spokeswoman Emma Sandoe said in a statement. "Most consumers will be eligible for tax credits that will significantly lower the base premiums that they will see through this tool. Consumers should complete the application process to see more detailed plan information, including prices with tax credits (if available), deductibles, and provider networks."

With this change, users now don't have to provide any personal information to see the prices. As HHS notes, these estimates don't account for any tax credits that the user might be eligible for, but there is a link to a tax credit calculator available on the same webpage.

As the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, the in-depth application that users had to fill out to even see their plan options appears to be one of the primary sources of the marketplace's technical troubles. That's why allowing window shopping has been a change that Obamacare watchers -- including former HHS officials -- have been advocating for.

"I do think this question of being shop and browse is important, as soon as possible," Joel Ario, a private consultant who worked at HHS in the early days of the law's implementation, told TPM last week. "We know most people don't want to just go in and go straight to the purchase. They want to be able to see their options, think about it, talk to their friends."