HCN News & Notes

Report: Online Health Sites Have Improved

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tools to help consumers navigate the online health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have improved dramatically over the course of four open enrollment periods, according to Supporting Informed Decision-Making in the Health Insurance Marketplace: A Progress Report for 2017.

Released today by the National Partnership for Women & Families, the new report describes common features of these marketplaces, which help consumers choose the best health insurance plans for themselves and their families. These increasingly effective tools include apps, live chats, hover-over term definitions and glossaries, user-friendly sorting and search options and information displays that enhance transparency about costs and the providers and medications individual plans cover. The report also offers detailed recommendations that marketplace administrators can implement moving forward.

“The country is better off because the ACA is the law of the land, and the health insurance marketplaces continue to play a critical role in helping consumers make informed choices about their health coverage,” said National Partnership President Debra Ness. “To find the right coverage, consumers need to be able to quickly understand their options and make choices based on what matters most to them. We’re pleased that, over time, the marketplaces have introduced new tools and functions that make important information about cost, coverage and quality more accessible and understandable for consumers. We’re confident that this report will help health insurance marketplace administrators continue to learn from one another and help consumers select the best available health care plans for themselves and their families.”

Supporting Informed Decision-Making reviews marketplace website features that were available through window-shopping during the fourth open enrollment period to consumers who were looking for health insurance on HealthCare.gov and on the 12 state-based marketplace websites. This report builds on analyses the National Partnership released in 2015 and 2016 of the marketplace websites during the second and third open enrollment periods.

The new report finds that during the open enrollment period for plan year 2017, the marketplaces continued to improve, providing increased transparency and an even better consumer experience than in years past. HealthCare.gov and the websites for the state-based marketplaces have continued to expand and improve tools that help consumers sort through plan choices. The increased transparency of websites also made it easier for consumers to compare plans across a number of features.

The report includes recommendations to further strengthen the marketplace websites. It recommends that all online websites:

  • Offer mobile apps that help educate consumers and encourage enrollment;
  • Expand the definitions of key terms available through “hover” functionality and in the glossary to help consumers understand relevant vocabulary;
  • Incorporate a live chat feature to connect consumers with assistance quickly;
  • Include health care provider and drug formulary search options in the marketplace website so consumers can easily identify plans that include their preferred providers and/or medications and don’t need to go to the separate insurer website for this information;
  • Clearly explain eligibility for cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) up front, and display silver plans to consumers who are potentially eligible for CSRs first, to help them take advantage of these savings, while also making clear how to view all plan options;
  • Allow consumers to sort and filter plan options easily based on their own priorities, such as by quality rating or network breadth; and
  • Place information about plan premium, deductible and cost-sharing information for primary care providers, specialists and all prescription drug tiers on initial display pages, rather than burying it on a “details” page.