Millennials who struggled to sign up for health insurance on HealthCare.gov have some simple advice for the Obama administration: Make the website more like Yelp or TurboTax.
President Barack Obama famously told doubters that they could use the government’s health insurance site to pick a health plan “the same way you shop for a plane ticket on Kayak, same way you shop for a TV on Amazon.” Speaking at a community college in Maryland last fall, he promised that the process was “real simple.”
That turned out not to be the case, of course. A study published Monday by Annals of Internal Medicine lays out some of the specific ways that HealthCare.gov — a centerpiece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — went wrong.
A team of doctors, lawyers, health economists and health policy experts from the University of Pennsylvania recruited 33 volunteers and observed them as they struggled to sign up for health insurance on the highly touted website. These volunteers should have been in pretty good shape: With ages ranging from 19 to 30, they were all members of a Web-savvy generation. In addition, the study described the young adults as “highly educated.”
But when they got to HealthCare.gov, they ran into problems. Some of them had anticipated that they could type in their preferences — what services they wanted to have covered, how much they wanted to spend on premiums, how much flexibility they want in picking their doctors — and get a list of options that met their criteria. (It could have been the health insurance equivalent of using Yelp to find a sushi bar near a certain city that has outdoor seating and takes reservations.)
Instead, the volunteers had trouble matching their preferences with actual plans, according to the study. The research team said this was partly because of the “overwhelming” amount of information the website displayed.
As one of the volunteers told the study authors: “I would love a tool where it’s, like, is it important that you have dental coverage? Check this box. Do you want mental health coverage? Check this box. ... [A]nd then have it generate: These are the plans that most closely meet your needs.”
Another hurdle was vocabulary. Plenty of terms on HealthCare.gov were “inadequately explained,” as the study authors put it. What is the difference between a PPO, an HMO and an HSA? How is a deductible different than a co-pay? When site users ran into these confusing terms, they got stuck.?Barack Obama