The Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act’s (PPACA’s) enhancements to HealthCare.gov’s online marketplace went live on Monday, December 2 – after a bumpy initial launch on October 1. The website is designed to allow consumers to shop for health insurance plans in their respective state, supporting the 36 states that opted not to develop their own state-level marketplaces. The plans available must meet the new standards outlined in the PPACA (a.k.a Obamacare).
45 million Americans are expected to use the site to obtain health insurance. However, many believe that if those seeking healthcare coverage cannot quickly and easily research and purchase plans, the success of the entire PPACA will be threatened. The initial launch did not bode well for the PPACA. Poor customer experiences and customer service failures were a common theme. These issues not only drove existing customers away, they can also deter prospective customers. As such, the HealthCare.gov enhancements which promised to improve service and customer experience were critical to the success of the PPACA.
A relatively new measurement of customer experience, introduced by the Harvard Business Review, measures customers’ ability to solve their issues quickly and easily; thereby optimizing the customer experience and increasing customer loyalty. The ‘Customer Effort Score’ is measured on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being Very Low Effort and 5 being Very High Effort. In other words, the lower the score, the easier it is for the consumer to accomplish specific tasks.
We at West Monroe Partners have just performed a Customer Effort Score assessment of the re-launched HealthCare.gov to see just how improved it is from a customer effort standpoint. We evaluated the enrollment process, determination of eligibility for subsidies, and comparing multiple health insurance plans. Because consumers are not eligible to sign up for plans until enrollment is processed, we were unable to evaluate the process for selecting and signing up for a specific plan.Our Customer Effort Score (CES) assessment of the re-launched Helathcare.gov site scored the level of effort a 2.6 out of 5, indicating an overall moderate level of customer effort. The high-level categories we assessed and their levels of customer effort are:
- Key Task Usability – scored a moderate to high level of customer effort (enrolling and determining subsidy qualification were the most difficult tasks)
- Help & Site Orientation – scored a relatively low level of customer effort
- Account Creation & Maintenance – scored a low level of customer effort
- Finding Information – scored a low level of customer effort
Below we highlight the 7 lowest and highest effort tasks.
7 Easy/Low-effort tasks:
- It was easy to change account settings (user name, password, security questions), account address and contact information, and set up communication preferences and alerts via text, email (regarding changes to the system, policy, platform or service).
- It was easy to shop anonymously with just a few inputs and without having to enter any personal information. However, without the individual qualifications entered during enrollment, the website can only give generalized rate estimates. That said, Healthcare.gov made it very clear that they are general estimates and that one should enroll to get more accurate pricing.
- The application itself is extremely intuitive and very user-friendly. The process is relatively lengthy with many required fields, but Healthcare.gov simplifies and streamlines the process – auto-populating as much as possible.
- Plan information is clearly presented and consistent across the different plans.
- It is very easy to view all of the plans that an insurance provider offers. The website displays a list of all companies and how many plans each one has, allowing the user to filter by company.
- It is very easy to use global navigation (consistent and intuitive), the sitemap (well laid out) and search functionality on the page.
- The live chat feature was easy, intuitive and a quick way to get questions answered. In addition, the website clearly communicates that the call center is available 24 hours a day/7 days a week.
7 Difficult/High-effort tasks:
- Users are unable to actually apply, sign up for, or purchase insurance through a selected plan (or attempt to) until the enrollment application is processed. Healthcare.gov does not make it clear that users cannot apply for a plan until enrollment has been processed and there is absolutely no indication of how long that may take.
- Users are unable to view personalized information until their enrollment application has been processed.
- It is difficult to compare covered benefits of different plans. Users must follow links outside of the plan’s website to get this information, preventing any easy method of comparison and inhibiting consistency.
- It is difficult to compare which physicians and hospital networks are covered by different plans. Again, users must link out to each individual plan’s website to get this information. Healthcare.gov does provide a link to Medicare’s website for ‘physician compare’ functionality, but this tool is outside of the Healthcare.gov site and not tested in this assessment.
- Once preferences and alerts are set, it is difficult to access them again to modify them.
- Healthcare.gov claims the ability to compare the quality of care patients received at local facilities, but this feature was not easily located.
- There is no formal ticketing system or email capability for users to submit and track issues or complaints.
As anticipated, some tasks were improved as a result of the Healthcare.gov re-launch, while some tasks remain difficult to accomplish. In many aspects, Healthcare.gov is still not ‘easy’ to do business with. West Monroe Partners believes that HealthCare.gov does not need to be the Amazon.com of the online shopping world, but it does need to make shopping for health insurance easier. The site must become even more efficient and even more intuitive, improving its Customer Effort Score and ensuring the enrollment of the tens of millions of Americans – especially younger, tech-savvy, healthier Americans – that are critical to the long-term success of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act.
Carolyn Sarb is a Manager of Customer Experience with a focus on the Healthcare industry for West Monroe Partners.
Dave Nash is Director of Customer Experience-Customer Strategy & Insights for West Monroe Partners.