5 design flaws of HealthCare.gov

Amid the government shutdown and partisan games plaguing Washington, D.C., and the rest of the country, something is actually happening--online signups for the Affordable Care Act. HealthCare.gov is finally open for business, but how well is it designed?

The site has more than a few technical issues and was down for maintenance over the weekend. Glitches and technical issues in the health insurance exchange ran rampant on the opening day of the health insurance marketplaces with delays and server crashes as consumers overwhelmed computer systems.

The Washington Post's Joey Marburger, the Post's director of digital products and design, and Sarah Sampsel, the paper's digital strategy director, offered some thoughts on what went wrong, and how the site could be improved in an article published Sunday.

Here are five of their complaints.

  1. No clear description of the ACA: The Post webmasters argue that when you get to healthcare.gov, there's no clear description of the ACA or why you should enroll. D.C. residents are sent to a different site than other state enrollees, and the messaging doesn't match up. If having trouble with the site, you were directed to a phone hotline that had 30-minute-plus wait times.
  2. Confusing prompts: Wording throughout the site is "inconsistent" or "redundant," the article authors note. There are too many links with similar language.
  3. The sitemap isn't functional: "The vast and complex sitemap looks like a test in information architecture," the Post authors write. There is a glossary of terms, but it's an overwhelming amount of information provided out of context.
  4. Forms take too long to load: The Post authors wanted to go through the process of making a "marketplace account," but getting the form took them 30 minutes. After filling it out, they were told their security information was invalid.
  5. Messaging on tech issues isn't clear: The authors suggest the site be more upfront about tech issues before users hop in and get started so they can avoid frustration later.

"We know there were several hurdles for the design and development teams to overcome, but the first impression shouldn't highlight those complexities and internal debates and compromises," the Post staffers wrote of Healthcare.gov. "It should be focused on the user coming to the site to enroll. The rest really doesn't matter."

It's not just the website that's a problem. The 13 states--Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin--that have passed laws or regulations that prevent navigators from guiding consumers in exchange-related matters make it even harder for people to get clear information on the ACA.

To learn more:
- visit Healthcare.gov
- read the Washington Post critique

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