LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
For people who get their health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges, it's that time of year again. Open enrollment for healthcare.gov kicked off on Friday. The website has been through a lot over the years. It had a famously rocky start in 2013, even as President Obama described his vision for how easy it would be to pick a health plan.
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BARACK OBAMA: Just visit healthcare.gov, and there, you can compare insurance plans side by side the same way you'd shop for a plane ticket on Kayak or a TV on Amazon.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Every year, there have been tweaks to make things run more smoothly. As NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin reports, this year, there's a new feature that makes it look a bit more like the website President Obama originally envisioned.
SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Star ratings - the plans you see are rated out of five stars based on information submitted by insurers and the experience of customers enrolled in the plans, just like on Yelp or Amazon.
LOUISE NORRIS: I definitely wouldn't recommend basing your whole plan selection decision on the star ratings, but it's another little tool people can use.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That's Louise Norris. She's an insurance broker who writes about health policy for healthinsurance.org.
NORRIS: Not every plan will have them because if the plan is new, obviously, it doesn't. And then if a plan is too small, it doesn't have it.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: And there's no guarantee you'll have access to plans with four or five stars. In some states, there are no plans with more than three stars.
There's another feature Dr. Charlene Wong likes. She's a professor at Duke University who studied how people make health insurance choices.
CHARLENE WONG: This tool called the estimated total yearly cost - a lot of people we know from past research become overly focused on the monthly premium and may not pay as much attention to things like the deductible or how much the copayments are.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Even with these tools, it can be daunting to pick the right plan. Wong knows it's hard because she's picked the wrong one. A few years ago, she got pregnant, and her bills from her prenatal visits with an in-network doctor were through the roof.
WONG: It turns out my original preferred provider was actually in Tier 3 of a tiered network.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She had to change doctors to keep her costs down. So take heart - this stuff is complicated, even for the experts.
Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News.
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