Marketplaces Can Improve on Aiding Informed Decision Making

Although this year's enrollment period has gone far smoother compared to the first year, there is much room for improvement particularly when it comes to helping consumers make informed decisions, according to a report commissioned by the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Although this year’s enrollment period has gone far smoother compared to the first year, there is much room for improvement particularly when it comes to helping consumers make informed decisions, according to a report commissioned by the National Partnership for Women & Families.

The Supporting Informed Decision-Making in the Health Insurance Marketplace report reviewed all 15 Marketplace websites (14 state-run and HealthCare.gov) to assess performance on 4 key features for informed decision making: enhanced anonymous browsing; direct access to key plan features; useful plan display and availability of consumer tools; and easy website navigation and links for assistance.

For each of these values, the report offered specific substantive and procedural steps that could improve consumers’ plan selection. According to the researchers, while there are more effective smart tools and interactive features on Marketplace websites, they are the exception, not the rule.

“Healthcare reform has given millions of people access to quality, affordable health plans—for many, for the first time,” said National Partnership President Debra L. Ness. “Certainly, it is the greatest advance for women’s health in a generation. But we must also make it as easy as possible for consumers to compare coverage options and identify the plan that best meets their families’ needs. We need to continuously improve the marketplace websites for that to happen.”

Although shopping for a health plan is still too confusing for many consumers, there are many positives thanks to the Affordable Care Act, according to Lauren Birchfield Kennedy, director of health policy at the National Partnership.

“We found many promising practices that enhance transparency in the marketplace and support informed decision-making by consumers,” she said. “Anonymous browsing has become standard practice. Marketplace websites are starting to allow consumers to tailor their searches to align with their circumstances and preferences.”

Nearly all Marketplace websites allow consumers to “window-shop” for plans, which allows for anonymous browsing. Even while browsing anonymously, some Marketplaces still offer smart tools, such as highlighting silver-level plans for anonymous consumers who appear eligible for cost-sharing reductions or a tool that provides customized plan options based on the consumers’ noted preferences.

“Across marketplace websites, there are strong features in place that support informed consumer decision-making,” according to the report. “However, marketplace administrators should continue to look for ways to systematically review and improve how they help consumers analyze and select plans.”