Health insurance exchanges (HIX) have been in the works for a number of years now. Having survived legislative, legal, and electoral challenges, the part of the Affordable Care Act healthcare reform law that mandates the exchanges remains intact. What has not yet been determined, however, is how the exchanges will look to consumers – how user-friendly on-line sites will be. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the agency responsible for the set up and oversight of the exchanges, has reached out to the public in a number of ways to try to determine how the exchanges should look. This outreach has led HHS to change the branding of the product from “exchanges” to “marketplaces”, and may lead to a change in how the interface will look as well.
Originally, according to this article from Kaiser Health News, the online exchanges where being designed to look like the travel website “Travelocity,” where consumers could pick from a number of different product plans. Now, users who go to select from available insurance options through the online marketplaces could see a website more similar to the tax website TurboTax, where the individual is guided through the process with a series of questions.
The change comes as the result of discussion groups held by three non-profit organizations in Colorado. They found that few of the participants in the groups said that they would feel comfortable choosing a policy on their own. Many worried that they would not understand health insurance jargon enough to make the best decision. Like paying taxes, buying insurance is a complicated proposition, and like doing taxes, buying a policy on the exchange means interfacing with state and federal government agencies. The non-profits also found that a model Colorado program would include a customer care line, where individuals could talk through their insurance options with experts.
As HHS grapples with the fact that it will have to run the exchanges in about half the states, the department will have to figure out the most effective way to do this. This study from Colorado could provide insight into the best type of website to set up, but it could also show that no matter how easy a website it to use, consumers will want to be able to talk to an expert before picking a plan.