Tech

Companies created high-volume health care exchanges … in the nineties

While implementation of the federal Obamacare exchange continues to prove vexing to the government, the private sector solved the problem more than a decade ago.

President Obama promised this week that the “best and brightest” will take over building the busted HealthCare.gov website because of widespread “glitches.” He might have consulted the half dozen insurance companies that built successful website before his presidency.

HealthAxis in Pennsylvania successfully launched a website offering health insurance in 19 states in…1998. Another company, eHealthInsurance in California, launched a site allowing thousands to buy health insurance in 1999.

Press releases for both companies stressed the ease with which applicants could enroll in the system, essentially offering what President Obama has claimed the exchanges would offer.

“eHealthInsurance.com offers consumers access to the leading plans at the very best prices, and they can enroll on-line quickly and confidentially,” said Dave Dias, General Manager of eHealthInsurance.com, in 1999.  “The site gives people an easy way to purchase health insurance with no sales pressure or bias, just information.”

“EHealthInsurance.com also enables consumers to obtain free rate quotes and fill out electronic enrollment application,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle on October 19, 1998. “Consumers are only required to state their sex, age and ZIP code.”

Michael Ashker, President and Chief Executive Officer of HealthAxis.com, said at the time, “HealthAxis.com is connecting the insurance carrier directly with the consumer. We believe that this Web-based platform offers efficiencies and cost-savings that will benefit our customers. And we look forward to developing even more convenience tools that consumers need to make informed purchases.”

Added Mr. Ashker, “With more and more consumers turning to the Internet for everything from books to brokerages, the online distribution of health insurance is a natural next step. For individuals and small business owners that have to bear the cost of their own health insurance premiums, HealthAxis.com represents a compelling value proposition. By offering consumers quality, cost-competitive products and services via this new distribution platform, HealthAxis.com plans to be the leading online provider of health insurance to the $75 billion a year individual and small group markets.”

Both online products were launched successfully with little fanfare. They were soon joined by other companies, and the largest insurers spent the following decade building out high-volume web presences.

“Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield wants to allow its members to shop around for health care in much the same way people use the Web to find good deals on airline tickets,” wrote Daniel Lee of the Indianapolis Star in April 2007. “The health insurer, part of Indianapolis-based WellPoint, today unveiled an Internet tool, available at Anthem.com, that allows members to search what dozens of medical procedures cost at specific hospitals across Central Indiana.”

Unions got in on the act as well.

Helped by start-up money from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Service Employees International Union has created a nonprofit organization that plans to help young workers who lack health insurance and are saddled with debt,” wrote Steven Greenhouse on May 18, 2007.

“The nonprofit, Qvisory Tools for Life, will provide health insurance and financial advice and will begin doing so this fall, largely through its Web site, qvisory.org. Qvisory plans to give career advice and have blogs and forums in which workers 18 though 35 can discuss jobs and various services. Eileen Quigley, the organization’s chief executive, said, ‘What’s new about Qvisory is it’s an attempt to pull together in one place tools and advocacy for the emerging work force.'” (Steven Greenhouse, “Union Plans Advisory Tool for Young Workers,” New York Times, May 18, 2007)

Even dumb animals got better coverage from private-sector insurers than human beings are currently getting from the Obamacare technology.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2000 that even pet owners could buy pet insurance online.

“The concept of pet insurance has been around for a while, but now, with the advent of the Internet, all it takes is a couple of clicks of a mouse to insure a cat or dog,” wrote the paper in May 5, 2000. “At least three national companies’ Web sites make it possible to purchase policies online, including Premier Pet Insurance (www. ppins.com) and Preferred Pet Health Insurance (www.pethealthplus.com),” wrote Jill Vejnoska. “Founded in 1997, Premier’s Web site points out rather persuasively that without insurance, ‘the alternative could be for your pet to suffer unnecessarily or even be put to sleep.’”

While American companies solved these problems in the previous century, pint-sized California Rep. Henry Waxman blames an unspecified “private sector” for the failure of the Obama administration’s exchange. The compact Democrat argued strongly Tuesday that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius should not resign in shame over the HealthCare.gov fiasco because, in his view, the site’s contractor was to blame.

Obama’s HHS did not contract with the successful builders of previous insurance sites, instead giving millions in taxpayer dollars to a shady Canadian IT company that had previously been fired by the province of Ontario for screwing up a diabetes registry.

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