When Kish and I need to buy a car, a major appliance, or some other significant product, we typically consult Consumer Reports. There we find objective evaluations of our potential purchases by knowledgeable analysts, written in plain English accessible to the non-gearheads and non-techies among us.
So, I was interested when Consumer Reports tackled the process of trying to use Healthcare.gov, the federal government’s health exchange website. It makes sense when you think about it. One of the primary goals of the Affordable Care Act is to get uninsured consumers to buy insurance, so why not have one of the country’s preeminent consumer publications take a look at the process from the consumer’s standpoint?
Unfortunately, the Consumer Reports review of the Healthcare.gov process isn’t very encouraging. It notes that of the nearly 9.5 million people who apparently tried to register on Healthcare.gov in the first week of its operation, only 271,000 — about 1 in 35 — were successful. The article then provides tips about how to increase your chances of successfully navigating the website, offered by a software pro who has taken a careful look. (You can find the software pro’s blog, which addresses some of the problems he has found with the website, here.) Among other issues, he finds the instructions “garbled” and “needlessly complicated,” advises that you should simply ignore error messages that do not match reality, recommends that you immediately try a new user name, password, and security questions if “anything at all doesn’t go right,” and suggests that you check your e-mailbox frequently for a confirmatory e-mail, because Healthcare.gov will time you out if you don’t respond promptly. The software guy also notes that many people are experiencing problems because of a crucial design error on the website: it loads “cookies” and other code onto user computers during the registration process that prove to be too large for Healthcare.gov to accept back.
Consumer Reports also recommends that potential users “[s]tay away from Healthcare.gov for at least another month if you can,” because “[h]opefully that will be long enough for its software vendors to clean up the mess they’ve made.” This advice is particularly interesting, because Consumer Reports also believes that the best source of information about healthcare options for consumers who are looking to buy health insurance themselves is through the health insurance marketplace in their state and Healthcare.gov — if it could only be made to work.