Consumer tips for fixed-up healthcare.gov website

  • Updated: December 7, 2013 - 4:41 PM

The insurance website is running more smoothly, but consumers are advised to verify.

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A page of the healthcare.gov website.

It doesn’t rival Amazon and Travelocity, but President Obama’s much-maligned health insurance website finally seems to be working reasonably well most of the time. Still, consumers are well-advised to verify, not just trust.

More than 3.7 million people visited HealthCare.gov this week — and it didn’t crash, administration spokeswoman Julie Bataille deadpanned Friday on a call with reporters. Officials say 29,000 people enrolled the first two days of the week, exceeding total sign-ups for the 36 states served by the federal site during October, the month of its problem-plagued launch.

Work has shifted from zapping technical gremlins that frustrated consumers to cleaning up garbled enrollment files that the system has been delivering to insurers.

“The new process put in place this week is making a difference,” said Karen Ignagni, head of the largest industry group, America’s Health Insurance Plans. “The enrollment files are getting better, but there is more work to be done to ensure consumers are covered.”

As the Obama administration invites consumers back to take a second look, here are some of the changes you can expect:

SPEED AND AVAILABILITY

Independent testers question the blazing Internet speeds claimed by techies at the Health and Human Services Department, and some of the state websites, but confirm there’s been noticeable progress.

“The trend is in the right direction … but there are still things they can do to make the user experience better,” said Michael Smith, a vice president of engineering at Compuware Corp., which helps companies monitor the technical performance of their websites.

As of Friday morning, the number of states where consumers are experiencing unacceptably long wait times had been cut to 9, down from 26 states in late October. Conversely, Compuware now rates 17 states as “acceptable,” up from just six in October.

Compuware defines “unacceptable” as more than 8 seconds average response time to load the home page. The government claims a response time of less than 1 second. But Smith says that is likely being measured from computers with fast Internet connections and doesn’t account for the experience of consumers with less than ideal access, which is incorporated in his company’s testing.

Compuware says availability — a measure of consumers’ success accessing the site — is up to 98 percent, close to the standard for commercial websites. HealthCare.gov is being measured against the standard for health care industry sites.

WINDOW-SHOPPING

Many consumers were puzzled and frustrated when the federal website went live because it would not let them browse health plans without first setting up an account. That’s the opposite of how e-commerce generally works.

The flaw drove many people to an accounts creation page that turned out to be riddled with bugs and contributed to the system’s early woes.

On Monday, HHS announced the deployment of a window-shopping function that lets prospective customers see plans and prices in their area, including previously unavailable details such as deductibles and cost-sharing, as well as provider networks.

RESET BUTTON

People who got stuck in the system can now zap away their old applications and start over.

To do that, you log into your account, select the application in progress and hit “remove.”

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