Launched last year to near universal jeering, the first iteration of HealthCare.gov was the very definition of a design crime. Democrats and Republicans alike pounced upon the site’s disastrous launch, which made it difficult for users to even sign up. And once they did, visitors were confounded by a design death trap full of cryptic messages, confusing navigation options, and inexplicable errors, all built on top of a backend that seemed like it was going to keel over at any second.
Over the weekend, HealthCare.gov 2.0 finally rolled out along with the second year of open enrollment. The new design aims to address a lot of the criticisms of the site’s first iteration, but how well does it succeed? To find out, we asked Rob Tannen, director of design research and strategy at Intuitive Company; Ashish Toshniwal, CEO of the mobile design agency Y Media Labs; and T.J. Parker, CEO of the health care startup PillPack, to tell us what they thought of HealthCare.gov 2.0.
“Even if nothing changed but the backend technology, it would have been a major improvement compared to last year,” Tannen says. “But there are several key improvements above and beyond that.” Parker agrees. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” he says. “There seems to be a fundamental acknowledgment that shopping is different from buying, which is a huge step forward.” Toshniwal says that the redesign is a “significant improvement,” largely thanks to an obvious visual hierarchy that follows a “clear grid and implements appropriate use of iconography.”
But not everything is perfect. In fact, as much as the new HealthCare.gov gets right, it still gets plenty wrong. Here’s the breakdown.
• Responsive Design–25% of all visitors to the old HealthCare.gov arrived by mobile devices, yet the site could barely handle them. Both Tannen and Toshniwal agree that the new HealthCare.gov uses the principles of responsive design to make for a better mobile experience.
• Transparency–One of the things that made the old HealthCare.gov site so difficult to navigate was that it was largely opaque to the user. For example, after filling out a form and submitting it, you might have to start over because the site was expecting the data in a certain format, but it didn’t tell you what that format was. A particularly notorious example was that all HealthCare.gov usernames needed to have a number in them, but this was never specified on the site.
Parker says that the end user experience is a lot clearer this time around. “It wasn’t particularly difficult to provide the data required to see what plans are available (ZIP, age, income) and the ability to sort by simple categories makes sense,” he says. And a lot of the more annoying bugs of the old HealthCare.gov have been ironed too. “Being able to see visual cues confirming that I had entered my data correctly was not just understandable, but encouraging.”
• More Efficient Navigation–Last year, visitors to HealthCare.gov were asked to choose what they wanted to do first: learn about insurance options, or actually shop for insurance. Only after they selected what they wanted to do were visitors asked to identify themselves as either looking for either an individual/family plan, or a small business plan. This year, that’s been reversed, which Tannen thinks makes a lot more sense. “By allowing users to self-identify as the first step, the site can more quickly drive people to relevant content via two different landing pages–with individuals and families as the default home page,” he says. Toshniwal also likes this touch. “The first two tabs on the page, Invidividuals and Small Businesses, really helps orient the user and serve up the appropriate information.”
• Informative Signposts–Once you started using the old HealthCare.gov, there was no way of telling how long you’d be sitting there clicking before you’d ordered your insurance. Five minutes? Five hours? Five million years? Who knows? But the new HealthCare.gov is a lot better about setting up signposts along the way, telling you how far you are to your destination, Parker says.
• Still Overwhelming–Although Parker says that it’s good that HealthCare.gov lets you know how far along in the ordering process you are, that process is still overwhelming. “It still just feels long and frustrating due to the sheer amount of data being collected, and the volume of questions that need answering,” Parker tells me. Toshniwal points out that on the “Get Ready To Enroll” page, visitors are simply inundated with an “excessive amount of text and information.” Streamlining the site even further would go a long way to reaching as many Americans as possible.
• Filtering Sucks–If you’re trying to filter your insurance options, HealthCare.gov will let you, but there’s no way to modify that filter without starting the whole process over again. “You can only choose one insurance provider or medical management program at a time, meaning you effectively have to start over with each query,” Parker says. “It would be much more efficient to be able to filter by all the things you care about: bronze and silver plans and asthma and diabetes, for instance.”
• It’s Still Impersonal–“The application process just felt overwhelmingly impersonal compared to other online experiences,” Parker says. “I was only applying for myself, as indicated in the very early stages of the application, yet all of the questions were framed as if I had dependents.” That’s an easy enough issue to solve from a technology standpoint–effectively it requires a simple if/then statement–and leads to a more personalized experience, which is important when it comes to medical care, but HealthCare.gov doesn’t bother at all.
• The Paradox Of Choice–Tannen, who lives in Pennsylvania, tried to use HealthCare.gov to find information on health insurance policies for his family and was immediately overwhelmed with a list of more than 40 possible plans to choose from. “I’m reminded of Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice, where too many options can be overwhelming and lead to poorer decision making,” Tannen notes. A guided Q&A or a checklist would be a more user-friendly way of helping people find a provider, he says.
• It’s All In Greek–HealthCare.gov assumes that every visitor is already speaking the site’s language. The problem is, not everyone is. “The enrollment process provides a great deal of information about various medical plans, but fails to provide definitions of fundamental terms such as “deductible” and “coinsurance” on the comparison view, arguably the place where they would be most useful,” Tannen says.
HealthCare.gov 2.0 is a step in the right direction, but it still has a ways to go before it’s perfect.
“The improved performance and usability of HealthCare.gov make it comparable with many commercial benefits enrollment websites, and frankly, better than quite a few,” Tannen says. “Now that the barriers of getting to the enrollment process have been addressed, it’s time to focus on the deeper challenge of helping people understand and choose the best fit plan.”
Parker agrees. “This seems to be a pretty meaningful step forward compared to HealthCare.gov 1.0,” he says. “Unsurprisingly, it is probably going to be quite some time before this is a truly painless and simple shopping experience. I hope that they can make as meaningful an impact on the actual application and plan selection in 2016 as they did on the browsing experience in 2015.”
But small problems aside, HealthCare.gov 2.0 is a big step forward. “Overall, the design offers a more simplified and intuitive UX coupled with a more inviting UI, which gives the user a sense of accomplishment and accuracy when navigating through the website,” Toshniwal tells me. So maybe we should count our blessings where we can.