Hooray! You can now window shop on HealthCare.gov.

By Features Consumer Reports

Quietly late last night, HealthCare.gov acquired an incredibly useful new feature. Without logging in or even creating an account, you can now see all kinds of details about plans available in your area, with the exact premiums for someone your age. This is a huge help for shoppers in the 36 states served by the portal, who up until now had to go through the long and not always smooth process of filling out an entire application before they could see this information.

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I’ve been playing with it a bit, and it works perfectly, even in the midst of what’s one of the busiest days for the site in many weeks. You can filter by metal level or insurance company, and for each plan you can click through and see details about deductibles, coinsurance, etc.

You will also—and this is very important for a lot of people—find links to the provider directory for each plan, and the list of preferred drugs.

But what it will not show you is the size of any subsidy you might have coming to you to lower the cost of your premium. For that, you still have to go through the application process. But there’s a three-step workaround that’s pretty easy:

1. Figure out as best you can what your household Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) is likely to be in 2014. For this, you can use our cheat sheet that describes exactly how this works. It’s the number you’re going to enter in Step 2.

2.   Go to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s subsidy calculator, which in our opinion is the best of several available. Fill it out, using the MAGI number you came up with in Step 1.  The subsidy it shows you, if any, is given on an annual basis. Divide by 12 to find out what it comes to every month. You’ll need this figure to complete Step 3.

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3.  Now, go to HealthCare.gov. On the home page, click on the leftmost medallion that says, “See plans before I apply.” Fill out the requested information, and, presto, you’ll see the plans and can explore them to your heart’s content. To find the actual premium you’ll be paying, simply subtract the amount of your subsidy.

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Health reform countdown: We are doing an article a day on the new health care law until Jan. 1, 2014, when it takes full effect. (Read the previous posts in the series.) To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper, below.

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