Information Week

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CA Open Enrollment: Showtime For Health Insurance Sites

By:Alison Diana

During the next three months, consumers can sign up for health insurance during the Affordable Care Act open enrollment period. New technologies at health insurance websites aim to smooth the way.

Americans will have an opportunity during the next three months to sign up for health insurance during the 2015 Obamacare open enrollment period. To prepare, health insurance websites are rolling out a number of new tools and technologies designed to reduce confusion and help consumers locate insurers.

Despite this third-party assistance, the US administration reduced by 30% the number of people it predicted would enroll in government-backed or state health insurance marketplaces over the three-month open enrollment period, which begins on November 15. Originally, the Congressional Budget Office expected 13 million people to enroll; now, they predict that between 9 million and 9.9 million will enroll,Reuters reported.

In addition, all may not run smoothly at Healthcare.gov, despite changes over the past 12 months. These included the hiring of Accenture to manage the site and back-end systems, InformationWeek wrote last month.

“Open enrollment this year will be a positive experience for the consumer,” said US Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. But some things “will go wrong… we will have outages. We will have down time.”

Healthcare.gov is not the only site using a new tech vendor.

Massachusetts’ MassHealth switched to a system from hCentive, developer of Kentucky’s website. Maryland turned to Deloitte, which was behind Connecticut’s successful site, to replace its trouble-prone first iteration. Idahodebuted its own site, yourhealthidaho.org, with the help of GetInsured and Accenture. Others, like Nevada (which originally used Xerox) and Oregon (now suing Oracle) switched to Healthcare.gov this year after trying state-run sites. New Mexico — which had planned to move individuals to a state-run site in 2015 — opted to stick with the federal system for another year.

“When consumers shop for coverage, they want the kind of personalization they experience when they shop on Amazon and it suggests the best product for them. Amazon maps your personal purchase behavior and the behavior of millions of others to match you with the best fit. Americans want to be advisedon the best investment for their bodies and their lives and then get on with their lives,” Noah Lang, CEO of Stride Health, told InformationWeek.

In addition to the technology and integrators powering these websites, many states have invested in more call centers, navigators, and marketing to promote their services and encourage residents to sign on for insurance. Healthcare officials also are partnering with insurance brokers, agents who specialize in helping people select from among multiple insurance plans, according to the Seattle Times.

“For our sustainability, it’s really important we get to those agents and brokers,” Michael Marchand, communications director at state exchangeWashington Healthplanfinder told the newspaper.

To help brokers, developers such as Limelight Health will soon offer mobile apps to compare plans and prepare quotes. QuotePad — slated for release this year for iOS and Android operating systems — is designed for small-business health insurance plans, and includes a custom, live interface with cost models, employer-sponsored health insurance options, and pricing compared across “thousands of health exchange systems at once,” according to Limelight Health. The SaaS cloud-based software calculates subsidies, health reimbursement accounts (HRA), health savings accounts (HAS), and can be private-labeled, the developer said.

For individuals working alone or supporting a small or midsized business, websites including GoHealth and HealthPlans.com allow them to comparison-shop across a spectrum of insurance providers nationwide. This enrollment period, 73% of more than 1,100 consumers surveyed plan to evaluate new insurance plans, HealthPlans.com research found; that includes 63% of those who said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their current coverage.

Stride Health is authorized to sell plans from about three-dozen insurance carriers, working with large national companies and small, regional firms, said Lang. The company also teamed up with Healthcare.gov to deliver government assistance via tax subsidies like those available on the federal website, he said.

“We don’t market our technology to those carriers though; we’re 100% direct-to-consumer. The key is to build for the consumer, meet their needs, and speak their language. It’s the path-less-traveled in healthcare in the US,” said Lang. “Consumers aren’t willing to download an app to buy health insurance, but they want an app-like experience. That’s why we’re launching a web app that looks and feels like a native app. It’s a fast, seamless experience that gives consumers the experience they deserve when making a major life investment like health coverage.”

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Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel … View Full Bio

 

 

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The role of health insurance brokers may be more valuable today than ever. Brokers equipped with proper technology can be a big help to individuals and businesses, both before and after enrollment.

“The Affordable Care Act, along with a broader set of marketplace dynamics, will continue to change the nature of health insurance and necessitate not only expert enrollment assisters but technology that will empower them to provide valuable services to customers,” according to a new white paper from Limelight Health of Redwood City, California.

Even consumers who use an expert enrollment assistant as a resource during enrollment and advocate when something goes wrong can end up in financial trouble.

“Expert enrollment assisters, such as brokers, can help consumers navigate these issues of access, quality and cost past the point of enrollment,” the paper said. “However, though they are experts, they are not walking computers.

“They need to have the technology tools that will put this information at their fingertips so they can guide their owners through this post-reform world, particularly with the added complexity of assisting a population that may be selecting among both group and individual insurance options for themselves and their family members.”

The ante is even higher for small businesses.

“The choice of what insurance to purchase is complicated and very impactful for an individual,” the paper said. “But it is child’s play compared to the complexity of choices small businesses face.

“Needless to say, this is not a conversation that should happen on the back of an envelope. Brokers who work with small businesses have developed a range of tools to assist their clients with these choices. Having the tools to assess these new options is more essential than ever post-health care reform.”

As the report concludes, consumer and businesses have three options when choosing a health insurance plan:

  • Health plan representatives. “Representatives are ultimately employees of their own companies and are unlikely to fully and objectively present all of the options that are available from their competitors.”
  • Government employees.“The can only assist consumers in enrolling in marketplace plans and government programs; they are not permitted to even discuss the options available outside of public exchanges.”
  • Brokers. “Brokers will remain and essential resource for businesses and individuals looking to have access to the full range of options as well as an awareness of how these options compare to each other.”

In the brave new world of health care, a qualified broker with the right technology will always be a viable choice. “Expert, objective, technologically enabled enrollment assistance has become even more important in the post-health reform world,” the white paper concluded.