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Originally published September 21, 2013 at 8:08 PM | Page modified September 26, 2013 at 4:11 PM

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Tips for using Healthplanfinder

On the Washington Healthplanfinder site one of the first things you’ll probably want to access is the cost-estimate tool to help you figure out how much you’ll likely pay for insurance.

Special to The Seattle Times

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If you’re in the market for a new health-insurance plan, you’ll want to go directly to www.wahealthplanfinder.org. That’s the Washington Healthplanfinder site developed by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, the public-private company set up by the Legislature to manage the health-insurance marketplace in Washington state under the Affordable Care Act.

The first thing most people will want to access on the site is the cost-estimate calculator, a tool to help you figure out how much you’re likely to pay for insurance. On the Healthplanfinder home page, simply click on the Go To Calculator button under the calculator icon on the right side of the page.

As you’ll see, the calculator offers three main data fields: Household Information, Enrollee Information and Monthly Cost. But before entering data, be sure to read the explanatory text above the calculator so you know just what you’re seeing.

For starters, the calculator is only going to give you an estimated rate for a “silver-level” health plan, and it’s going to be a statewide average. In fact, rates for the same plans may vary from one region within the state to another.

In the Household Information section you are prompted to enter the number of people in your household to be insured. Next you are to enter the annual household income. Be sure to enter the household’s modified adjusted gross income. For most people, that’s your adjusted gross income plus any tax-exempt interest income you might have. If you’re an independent contractor grossing $75,000, for instance, and you enter that figure you will get a completely different result than if you enter your modified adjusted gross income of $42,000.

When you enter the household income, the calculator will report the household’s percentage of the federal poverty level. Remember, subsidies cut off abruptly at 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

In the Enrollee Information you’ll be prompted to enter the ages of the first adult, spouse, the number of children under 21 and the number of children aged 21-25.

Once that’s done you’ll see three figures in the Monthly Cost field: the estimated plan premium, the estimated tax credit and the resulting estimated actual monthly cost.

Here’s why you need to make sure you’re entering the right figures in the annual household income field. If the independent contractor mentioned above was reporting as a single-person household and he or she entered an age of 55, the estimated premium would be $515 and there would be no subsidy.

If instead the modified adjusted gross income of $42,000 was entered, there would be a subsidy of $182 a month, reducing the actual monthly cost to $333.

Bear in mind, however, that if your actual annual income exceeds your estimated income, you will have to repay the appropriate portion of your subsidy at tax time. And if your actual modified adjusted gross income exceeds 400 percent of the poverty level, you may be in for a fairly hefty repayment. Keep that in mind if your income starts to increase during the year.

While the calculator is currently available on the site, other content had not been made available at press time, including pages to compare plans side by side to get detailed pricing and to select plans.

When the additional pages are made available, which the exchange promises will be by Oct. 1, consumers will also be able to search and sort plans by a variety of criteria, including premium ranges and health-care providers. Consumers also will be able to get detailed pricing after entering additional information, including gender and whether or not one has used tobacco in the previous 12 months.

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