The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act stipulates that all states must have a health insurance exchange in place by 2014 or the residents of that state will have the option to enroll through a federal health insurance exchange. A health insurance exchange aims to provide competitive prices and transparency to those who are currently unable to afford health care coverage and for some businesses. It is seen as a step towards universal health coverage.  A predecessor of the health insurance exchange as outlined but the PPACA is the exchange in Massachusetts, which is entitled the Connector. Connector provides information on name brand health insurance options as well as information on Commonwealth Care, the no or low cost health care plan for those with low income who do not qualify for MassHealth benefits. 
Since the passage of PPACA some other states have organized health insurance exchanges for their residents including, California, Utah and West Virginia.  Many are in the process of developing their health insurance exchange programs as well. This is not to say that each health insurance exchange is developed equally. The Utah health insurance exchange is a collection of websites that a consumer can visit to obtain quotes for health insurance, where as the Connector provides comparison quotes that a consumer can review at the same time.
The Kaiser Family Foundation produced a comprehensive brief on the health insurance exchange, which listed and explain 5 function of the health insurance exchange. The 5 functions of a health insurance exchange as described by the Kaiser Family Foundation included:
Offering potential members with a multitude of health plan options that focus on competitive pricing
Being transparent and providing detailed information to the potential member
The creation of a separate administrative mechanism for enrollment proceedings
Gaining more portability of coverage of health plans
Changing how the health insurance market functions overall
The original plan was to have one over arching federal health insurance exchange, which would create a large risk pool leading to lower health insurance premiums and rates. However this was adjusted to have individual state health insurance exchanges and if one is not put into place by 2014 the residents would still have the option to use the federal health insurance exchange. There was concern that with the smaller health insurance exchanges that there would be smaller risk pools of eligible people for the exchanges and the targeted effect of lower costs would not be obtained. With the individual states owning control of the exchanges there is better connection to the Medicaid options that would be connected to the exchange and the negotiations with the insurance companies could be more effective as well. 
When thinking about how one currently attempts to shop for a personal health care plan it is frustrating to jump from website to website, or if...