Further Improvements to ACA Marketplace Websites Are Helping Consumers Find the Right Health Insurance Plans, but More Progress Needed

by | May 19, 2016 | ACA

During the third open enrollment period, which ran from November 2015 through January 2016, roughly 12.7 million people purchased health insurance through the marketplace. Some consumers re-enrolled in the same plans they had the previous year, but many shopped for a new plan. When examining their options, some shoppers may have been looking to save money, or for a plan that covers the providers and prescription drugs they rely on. Some may have wondered about the quality of the health plan they wanted to purchase. As the marketplace continues to grow and evolve, it’s important that consumers be able to quickly and effectively get the information they need.

In a series of reports, the National Partnership for Women & Families has examined how and state-based marketplace websites can best support individuals and families as they shop for plans in the online health insurance marketplace. Last week, we released the third report in this series, Supporting Informed Decision-Making in the Health Insurance Marketplace: A Progress Report for 2016. In this analysis, we note encouraging improvements in the consumer-friendliness of marketplace websites and offer specific recommendations for administrators as they work to further improve the health plan shopping experience and help individuals and families find the plan that is right for them.

This new report looks at the tools that were available during the third open enrollment period to people who were “window shopping” (that is, checking out plans without using an account) on, which is used in 38 states, and on the 13 state-based marketplace websites. The study was conducted in January and supplemented with six consumer focus groups in five states.

We found that during the most recent open enrollment period, website administrators included features that make it easier for consumers to:

  • Estimate how much they are likely to spend in total, through premiums and other costs associated with their care ( and seven state-based marketplace websites added such features);
  • Identify which plans include their preferred health care providers ( and five states did so);
  • Understand which plans would cover various medications ( and two states do so);
  • Assess the quality of the health insurance plans available to them (four states);
  • Quickly find support through definitions, fact sheets, glossaries, videos and other helpful tools (on all websites in varying combinations; three state-based websites also offer “live chat” functionality); and
  • Access information in a language other than English (for example, and 11 state-based marketplace websites offer their entire websites in Spanish at a click).

In our recommendations for further improvements, we address specific functionalities and features. For example, we encourage website administrators to integrate more information on health insurance and how it works into the window shopping experience; make information on the availability and amount of possible financial help more prominent; refine cost estimator tools to better capture consumers’ expected health care use; ensure plan-specific information about in-network providers and prescription drugs is easy to find; and keep plan information updated, among other actions.

We hope the detailed findings and recommendations in this report will help policymakers and administrators as they continue to improve the marketplace websites year after year. The next open enrollment period will be here before we know it!

You can read the report and view a news release about it here.