Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bypassing, revisited

Just a brief teaser here, as I work to finish a reported story about different approaches to improving the shopping experience at and getting essential information to users.

I have caught up again with HealthSherpa, which began life as one of the first ACA comparison shopping sites to spring up while was dysfunctional last fall, then went on to become a licensed broker and go live last February as one of the first third-party sites to start enrolling people in subsidized ACA plans. As I reported at the time (or rather, added some explanation to an initial report by the Washington Post's Brian Fung), HHS licensed a number of brokers to develop "web-based entities" -- that is, their own dedicated interfaces on the government site -- and HealthSherpa did so.

Now, co-founder Ning Liang tells me that the company has completed almost 2,000 applications and  continues to streamline the process. Liang claims that a solo applicant can now complete an application in 3-5 minutes --  and a family plan applicant in 10-15 minutes.  HealthSherpa has made this possible partly by reducing the lag time following each completed question, and partly by eliminating redundancies. One key streamlining is that a user goes directly from the shop-around process, where one enters personal info and gets price quotes with plan summaries, to the application process, rather than starting over as on The info entered in the shop-around process is ported into the application process.

Perhaps more importantly, no one goes into the application process without first completing the shopping process. Within a half minute of visiting the site, you have a ballpark idea what you'll pay, given your zip code, age, household size, and income. In fact, you see price quotes immediately when you enter your zip. They change before your eyes as you fill in age, income and additional household members. Their order changes when you estimate how heavy a user of medical services you're likely to be (light users generally see bronze atop the list, moderate users (the default), silver, and heavy users, gold).

In short, whether or not you make an optimal decision, you really can buy subsidized health insurance in the time it takes to buy, say, a computer monitor online.  The process is so streamlined that a user may miss essential information. But if you get your household size and income right (admittedly not always as easy it sounds), you can't spend more than a minute on the site without knowing the least you'll pay for private insurance, or the most you'll be on the hook for annually for any plan available to you on the exchange. You'll see the high/low of possible annual costs for as many plans as you're willing to scroll through.

Re that first bit of info -- the cheapest available premium for you on the exchange: That's more than more than half the uninsured know. And that's a crucial first step.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a health insurance broker (for 34 years) and I'm also impressed with HealthSherpa. During Open Enrollment, the time and frustration encountered by consumers was like nothing I have ever experienced. Between glitches, delays and total shutdowns, using the .gov website was a nightmare.

    I will utilize HealthSherpa starting in November. I believe it will be a winning combination for consumers...and yes, brokers too!