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Find Affordable Health Insurance

One would think the banner above came from Healthcare.gov, the storefront for the Affordable Care Act.  Instead, it comes from eHealthinsurance.com.

Two months after it was launched, the backend of Healthcare.gov has reportedly improved to support up to 50,000 concurrent visitors.  No doubt the user experience improves if the site isn’t freezing or crashing, but even after the backend improvements, the shopping experience is far from friendly.

My advice to the owners of Healthcare.gov – don’t reinvent the wheel!   I’m not sure whether Expedia or Travelocity or Orbitz first perfected the online travel booking interface, but they all look pretty much the same today.  To quote Charles Caleb Cotton– “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”  Continue reading below to see how Healthcare.gov could greatly improve the enrollment process.

One good sign?  The Healthcare.gov team is working feverishly to improve the customer experience.  In less than 24 hours since I took the first screen shots of Healthcare.gov (below, left), the home page (below, right) has become less confusing.

Healthcare.gov home original Healthcare.gov Home Improved

The designers have:

  • Removed the unclickable icons of a computer, a phone, a sheet of paper, and three connected people as “4 Ways to Get Marketplace Coverage” (see the original home page – above left)
  • Focused the home page on the most common functions a visitor would want – Find Plans, Apply Now, Check for Lower Costs

There are still confusing issues on the home page:  Why is “LEARN” highlighted in the top row – won’t I learn when I click “SEE PLANS”?  Why is there a “GET INSURANCE” tab in the top row when there is an “APPLY NOW” button?  Why make the user choose between “INDIVIDUALS and FAMILIES” and “SMALL BUSINESSES”?  Won’t both of them want to click on one of the three main circular buttons?

For contrast, see the home page of eHealthinsurance.com.  It is focused on the main function of the site – “FIND PLANS NOW.”

eHealthinsurance Home

As a user moves through the eHealthinsurance.com site, she gets the typical online shopping experience we have come to expect from online retailers.  Healthcare.gov should be able to replicate this without much difficulty.  A few basic principles to keep in mind:

Remember people when they come back.  eHealthinsurance remembers the basic information I entered – location, gender, and family members.  Since some of this information is personal and Healthcare.gov doesn’t want to cause issues for users using shared computers, provide a warning before you store this information.  This is common on websites ranging from online banking to online shopping.

Make it easy for users to filter and compare plans.  Provide filters for basic parameters which differentiate plans, for example, the Insurers you want, the Monthly Premium you want to pay, and the Deductible you would most like.  Allow a side by side comparison of the plans.  See screen shots below.

eHealth FilterseHealth Plan Compare

Don’t ask for information you don’t need.  It is most annoying to click through “FIND A PLAN” then answer questions about whether I am looking for coverage for my family or a small business, whether I am looking for Health or Dental coverage, and the state I live in, only to discover that Healthcare.gov is going to pass me off to my state’s health insurance marketplace.  If my state has a health insurance marketplace, pass me off to it on the Home page.

The state marketplace I went to (Connecticut) had its own set of user experience issues, but it was moderately better than the Healthcare.gov experience.  My message to all governmental online healthcare marketplace designers is simple: reign in your creativity, don’t reinvent the wheel.  Swipe (non-copyrighted) good ideas from existing successful online services (acknowledge them) and read the basic principles of customer-centric design in my first blog post.

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