Even highly educated young adults struggle to understand and navigate HealthCare.gov, according to a study published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The most highly-prized Obamacare target, young and healthy adults, were often stumped by the federal website, which the Obama administration had promised would be easy and accessible for everyone — like popular comparison websites such as Kayak or Amazon.
Young, Internet-literate, highly-educated professionals struggled with poor access to information on HealthCare.gov — details on the plans, comparisons, subsidies and even basic health insurance terms were too hard to come by.
University of Pennsylvania researchers followers 33 subjects for three months as they struggled to get coverage from the federal website. The young professionals were both the best-prepared demographic to get coverage online — highly educated and familiar with the Internet — and the most desirable group as well — young, healthy and inexpensive for insurers.
But many were confused by the website layout and were unable to access correct information to pick out a plan. Respondents were confused by the application for premium subsidies and cost-sharing reductions in particular, which made it difficult to determine how much a specific health care plan cost.
The current system in practice at HealthCare.gov made “more comprehensive coverage appear cheaper than less comprehensive coverage,” when the opposite is actually true, potentially leading young adults into purchasing more expensive plans they may not be able to afford.
Many of the options are poorly laid out, according to those surveyed, and the website doesn’t offer sufficient comparisons between different plans. Young professionals were frustrated that they couldn’t match plans to their preferences — in premiums, narrow networks or covered services, for example — as is possible on the websites President Obama vowed HealthCare.gov would live up to.
Filters for sorting through all the information available about the health care plans didn’t function properly; some respondents complained about an “overwhelming” amount of information to sort through.
A long-standing worry for health care advocates has been reaching the previously uninsured, who are more likely to be unfamiliar with health insurance and how it works. While that concern has largely been focused on low-income and non-English speaking populations, well-educated young millennials also struggled with the language.
The study recommended that the Obama administration make a simple fix to the problem — adding a glossary to the health care website to make the coverage more understandable for customers on their own.
The widespread problem even young, Internet-literate and well-educated customers found with the website indicates that the Obama administration has a lot of improvements to make, although HealthCare.gov’s basic functionality has been improved.