This week MarylandHealthConnection.gov, the state’s online insurance marketplace, launched a new web portal that gives about 150,000 residents that buy health coverage online the chance to comparison shop rates before open enrollment begins Nov. 1.

With the amount of time consumers have to shop for health insurance on Healthcare.gov and other online exchanges cut by half this year, the Maryland health exchange is giving consumers a new web tool to get a head start.

This week MarylandHealthConnection.gov, the state’s online insurance marketplace, launched a new web portal that gives about 150,000 residents that buy health coverage online the chance to comparison shop rates before open enrollment begins Nov. 1.

Open enrollment ends Dec. 15, a 45-day period that is half of the 90 days consumers had to select plans in prior years.

To use the portal residents click a “Get Started” button and enter some basic personal information to review health and dental plans and their estimated costs for 2018. Consumers who already have a 2017 plan also can make changes and shop for new coverage from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, the state says.

When Maryland residents do go online to comparison shop for coverage they can expect to find fewer insurers to pick from and higher premium prices, says HealthInsurance.org. Cigna announced plans to exit the Maryland exchange in June, but three other big insurers—CareFirst Blue Choice, CareFirst of Maryland/Group Hospitalization and Medical Services Inc. and Kaiser—will continue to provide coverage at higher approved prices.

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The Maryland Department of Insurance approved a rate hike of 34.5% for CareFirst Blue Choice, 49.9% for CareFirst of Maryland/Group Hospitalization and Medical Services and 22.6% for Kaiser, which sells policies online only around Baltimore and in the Maryland suburbs near Washington, D.C.

About 50% of Maryland residents that buy their insurance through a public exchange will qualify for monthly subsidies that average about $213, says HealthInsurance.gov.

With higher premiums and fewer days to enroll for health insurance online, MarylandHealthConnection wanted to give residents some better ways to price and compare policies, says interim executive director Howard Haft. Maryland residents also can use the new comparison shopping portal by downloading the exchange’s mobile app.

In May 2016, Maryland Health Connection announced that there were still about 240,000 people in the state who were eligible to purchase coverage through the exchange (not including those eligible for Medicaid). Three years before, that number stood at 405,000, according to HealthInsurance.org.

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