HealthCare.gov is so difficult to use even “highly educated” millennials can’t figure it out

The epically disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov, ongoing backend problems and 2.6 million data inconsistencies are just a few parts of the story about the federal Obamacare exchange. Another problem, one that hasn’t received enough attention, is that the website is so damn difficult to maneuver that even millennials, young people who’ve grown up in the digital age, can’t figure it out:

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 Santa Monica 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.”

One of the volunteers said that “[i]t’d be nice if they had something like they do on TurboTax.” Think about that for a moment. TurboTax is a program used to simply the tax filing process, comply with a complicated tax code and litany of IRS regulations. And yet, that’s easier to manage than HealthCare.gov.

Another problem that the study reveals deals with the nature of health insurance coverage mandates, a problem that has been amplified by Obamacare. Simply put, the Obama administration’s approach to coverage isn’t about what consumers want or need, it’s about the coverage bureaucrats believe they should be required to have.

A volunteer mentioned mental health coverage. Maybe he wanted it, maybe not. But regardless of what he wants it’s one of the 10 so-called “essential health benefits” insurers are required to offer in health plans offered on HealthCare.gov. Worth noting, by the way, that health insurance mandates have roots in politics, not necessarily because they’re good policy.

These are just a couple of the problems presented by the top-down approach to, what the Obama administration calls, “healthcare reform.” While HealthCare.gov tells a prospective consumer that they can “find health coverage that works for you,” really they’re more likely to get something dictated to them.

Bare in mind that some of these problems were present before Obamacare was passed, but rather than making health coverage more patient-centered, where people can buy the coverage they want, the law has made it to where bureaucrats and special interests have even more of say in the types of coverage available to consumers.


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