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Study tests 'customer experience' on MNSure health insurance exchange

Posted by: under Health care, President Obama Updated: October 18, 2013 - 5:10 PM

The web site for Minnesota’s health insurance exchange, MNsure, gets a thumbs down in a national study of usability issues and consumer experience for people trying to buy insurance under the new health care law.

The study by HealthPocket.com, a free site that rates health plans, comes amid a wave of bad publicity over technical glitches that have plagued the federal health care exchanges that rolled out Oct. 1. MNsure also was hit by a security snafu last month when an employee accidentally emailed private data to an insurance agent.

But the problems found by HealthPocket are of a lower order of magnitude, focusing mainly on the ease of online shopping and phone support.   

Among the snags: testers found that the MNsure site requires a comparatively high number of steps, or clicks, to arrive at a screen that compares insurance plans. From the report: “Among single web site exchanges with anonymous [no registration required] health plan comparisons, testers found Minnesota’s exchange, MNsure, had the most steps at 18.”

The problem with that is that in the world of online shopping, more steps increase the risk of web site visitors giving up.

Another shortcoming was that HealthPocket testers, on average, took slightly longer at 11 minutes to reach a live customer service representative to ask questions about MNsure. The average in other states is about two minutes.

Analysts said these defects can be significant for people struggling to understand the law and its requirements. “You can’t always assume high levels of consumer expertise or familiarity with health reform legislation,” said Kevin Coleman, head of research and data at HealthPocket.com.

Officials at MNsure said that while they are constantly striving to improve the site, Minnesotans seem to be finding what they need. As of Wednesday, 3,769 people had enrolled in health insurance plans through the exchange, and 406 had bought insurance. In addition, 5,569 had completed applications on behalf of 11,684 people, almost 10 percent of the statewide goal of 135,153 -- just two weeks into the six-month enrollment period.

“The HealthPocket survey is one view of things,” said MNsure spokeswoman Jenni Bowring-McDonough. “However, Minnesotans are navigating MNsure and they are securing health insurance.”

The report notes that all the state exchanges do not use the same underlying software system. In all, 36 states use the federal government’s Healthcare.gov technology for their health plan comparisons and enrollment functionality, with the remaining states administering their own web sites.

Consumer advocates have been pressing for more and better information to help consumers navigate the law, which critics dub "Obamacare." Many of the sites fail to give consumers basic information about subsidy estimates, out of pocket costs, and doctor networks, according to Robert Krughoff, founder and president of Center for the Study of Services/Consumers' CHECKBOOK.

"The architecture of the web site is very important," he said, "but so is the content."

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