Healthcare Exchange Sign-up Review – An Unscientific Sample of One

Posted on October 22, 2013


Yesterday I had the chance to test the new healthcare exchange web site, coincidentally the same day that President Obama admitted that the web site had “kinks in the system.”  A small business owner client wanted to compare the cost of his own personal health insurance on the exchange to his current rates in his company’s group plan.

My client lives in Pennsylvania, so we were using the federal site since PA chose to not run its own exchange.  My client won’t qualify for a lower, subsidized premium, so we didn’t use any of the system that verifies income in order to determine what subsidies you qualify for.

I initially rated our experience yesterday as a C-.   As publicized in the media, the system was extremely slow to accept answers and move to the next question, but we did get through the application (we thought – more on this later) and saw on the “My Applications & Coverage” page that the application was “In progress.”  We thought we had successfully navigated the site and assumed we’d get an e-mail soon when our quote was available.  Our reaction was that the system could be better, but it wasn’t the train wreck being conveyed in some of the media.

However, my client received no communications today, so I checked the site this afternoon and our application was still listed as “In progress.”  I eventually discovered that “In progress” did not mean that the application was finished and accepted, but instead found that the application was incomplete for some unknown reason that hadn’t been communicated to us yesterday.  When I tried to complete the application again this afternoon, the site indicated that their identity verification process is down for 24 hours.  It stated that we can log in when this process is working again, and we can finalize our application then.  Since the system verified my client’s identify yesterday, it’s not clear why any additional verification is needed.  So my grade for the system is now down to an F+.

Below are some my reactions to our experience thus far.

What we liked:

  • The site was clean and uncluttered.  Text was easy to read.
  • The questions were generally understandable and free of jargon.
  • We were able to successfully navigate the steps–creating an account, verifying identity, adding dependents, etc.  (Or at least we think we were successful.)

What we disliked:

  • The system doesn’t provide an accurate status of your application or tell you what the next steps are.
  • The system was painfully slow to accept answers and move to the next page.
  • The system was quirky in places.  For example, after asking the relationship between my client’s children (e.g., how is Bob related to Jane), the system effectively asked the same question again (e.g., how is Jane related to Bob).
  • The identity verification process was clearly being run by a credit bureau–the site asked questions about current and former loans you might have taken out.  This requires you to have an accurate memory of all of your loans and lenders, which in my experience many people don’t have.  My client guessed on two of the questions (apparently successfully), but this step could easily trip you up.  I assume if you guess wrong the site locks you out and forces you to call them.  Not ideal, to say the least.
  • The web site did not describe coverage details of the plans offered.  Prior to completing the application process, we tried but could never find descriptions of the coverages (co-pays, etc.) of the various plans offered (such as Keystone Platinum HMO).  I’m assuming when we get an actual quote this will be provided.

Hopefully we get this across the finish line over the next several days without too much additional effort.  I’ll post an update at that time.