User experience better on exchange websites, but more improvement needed

It is becoming easier for consumers to evaluate Affordable Care Act health insurance plans online, though more could be done to enhance the user experience on the exchange websites, according to a report from the National Partnership for Women & Families.

The study examined the tools available to consumers browsing Healthcare.gov and the 13 state-based marketplaces during the third open enrollment period, which ended earlier this year. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Healthcare.gov and seven state exchanges offered tools that allowed customers to get a general idea of what their healthcare will cost, but these tools only provide rough estimates because they don't take specific medication costs or patient needs into account.
  • Healthcare.gov and five state exchanges provide directories that allow consumers to see which plans include their providers, but the directories only identify which providers are in-network, and not the level of cost-sharing consumers will experience.
  • Four state exchanges provide information on the quality of plans.
  • Healthcare.gov and all but two state exchanges offer the option to view their entire websites in Spanish, and California and Massachusetts offer their websites in an array of languages.

To further enhance their websites, the report recommends that the exchanges: offer cost calculators that include consumers' expected use of healthcare, adopt designs that tell consumers when they are eligible for cost-sharing reductions, keep plan information as up-to-date as possible, place quality information in a prominent location on the website, and provide additional features to help people who understand limited English.

"It is critical that consumers remain at the center of efforts to improve these websites," the researchers wrote. "These efforts will help the marketplace deliver on one of its core missions: helping consumers compare coverage options and identify the plan that best meets their and their families' needs."

To learn more:
- here is the report (.pdf)

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