December 11, 2013

Despite the kerfuffle over the dismal user experience on HealthCare.Gov and other health insurance exchanges, the government-run sites are now firmly entrenched in the pack with private health insurance providers when ranked on user experience metrics. But the industry as a whole still ranks far behind the expected e-commerce experience overall, as exemplified by companies like Amazon and Kayak.

That's the finding of a survey of 297 consumers by Change Sciences, a provider of analytics around user experience. The company explains:

Consumers were asked to use the sites to shop for a plan that met their needs, as well as explore the site for something that interested them. The shopping task allowed for the assessment of site usability and the open ended task allowed for the assessment of engagement. After completing their work, participants were asked a series of questions to assess their likelihood to take action.

Health insurance sites studied included: Access Health CT, Aetna, Connect for Health Colorado, CoveredCA, eHealth (a private online marketplace),, Humana, Kaiser Permanente, and MNsure.

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In early November, was by far the worst-performing of the sites. But by early December, its usability score went up by more than 50%.

EHealth ranked highest for usability among sites, but still 16% behind Kayak and 27% behind Amazon.

The state-run exchanges CoveredCA and MNsure were the lowest-performing sites from a usability perspective (outside of HealthCare.Gov in November), but exchanges AccessHealth CT and Connect for Health CO and private sites from Aetna, Humana, and Kaiser Permanante all occupied a space within 10% of each other on the scale.

However, they were even lower than eHealth when compared to e-commerce leaders, showing that the industry still has a long way to go to be as easy as buying on those sites (a benchmark commonly cited by President Obama).

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"There has been a perception that private insurers were far ahead of the public exchanges. This new data shows that the public exchanges can be competitive, at least in support of shopping for plans," said Pamela Pavliscak, who directed the research for Change Sciences, in a statement. "It also shows online direct-to-consumer health insurance has a long way to go before it is as easy to shop for a health plan as it is to shop for a TV or a plane ticket."

To see where each site falls on a matrix of usability and conversion, check out the graph on Change Sciences' site.

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, ...