Fox News falsely claimed that HealthCare.gov does not allow anonymous shopping in order to stoke fears about security issues with the website. But the website has long had a window shopping feature, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on December 2 that it had improved the anonymous shopping feature, which allows for accurate insurance plan comparisons without entering sensitive personal information.
Fox Ignores HealthCare.gov Anonymous Shopping Feature
Fox News' Stuart Varney Criticizes HealthCare.gov For Not Allowing Anonymous Comparisons Of Plans. On the December 5 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Stuart Varney emphasized security problems with HealthCare.gov by complaining that the website is "the wrong way around," claiming "you get on the site, you give them your personal information, you open an account, and then you can shop":
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Why do we have to apply first and then shop? At the very least, can we shop and then put our personal information once I've settled on United or Etna?
VARNEY: Precisely, precisely. When you go on Amazon to shop, you shop.
VARNEY: First of all, you just get on the site and you shop. With Obamacare's website, you get on the site, you give them your personal information, you open an account, and then you can shop. It's the wrong way around. Maybe it's deliberate, I don't know. But it should not be that way around. And they should not be going around the country saying sign up if you cannot guarantee my security. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/5/13]
Administration Announced Improved HealthCare.Gov Anonymous Shopping Feature On December 2
Wash. Post: HealthCare.gov Added Preliminary "Window Shopping Function" October 10. According to The Washington Post, a simple window shopping tool first appeared on HeathCare.gov on October 10. From The Washington Post's Wonkblog:
One big stumbling block for HealthCare.Gov, technology experts say, has been the architecture of the site. It has required users to log in before they can browse health insurance options.
This is pretty different from how most commercial sites work; Kayak, for example, doesn't require account creation prior to shopping for plane tickets as does EHealthInsurance with its products.
At some point on Thursday though, this changed on the federal exchange. HealthCare.Gov has added what looks to be a new window shopping function to its suite of tools for learning more about the health law. While it does give consumers a bit of new information, it's still too bare bones to give consumers a sense of how different plans stack up. [The Washington Post, Wonkblog, 10/11/13]
HHS Improved "Window Shopping" For HealthCare.gov. On December 2, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that HealthCare.gov's revamped "window shopping" feature would allow users to "see more detailed information about each Marketplace plan offered in their area before applying" and doesn't require logging in to use. The announcement explained that consumers still need to log in to see if they qualify for subsidies that would lower the cost of the plans:
We've been making improvements to HealthCare.gov over the past several weeks to help consumers enroll in affordable health coverage, and today, we've launched an improved window shopping feature for consumers.
Consumers can now see more detailed information about each Marketplace plan offered in their area before applying. This new tool will display plan prices much more accurately, based on the household information entered. Consumers can compare plans, covered benefits, physician and hospital networks, and more. No login or application is required to access this feature. Just answer a few simple questions to see plans and prices in your area.
Consumers will still need to complete the Marketplace application to find out if they qualify for lower costs, but this new tool is a much enhanced version of an earlier one, and one more way consumers can get information to help them get ready to enroll and find a plan that fits their needs and budget. [Department of Health and Human Services, 12/2/13]
Media Reports Praise Revamped Window Shopping Feature
The New Yorker: New Shopping Feature Shows "Precisely The Sort Of Information" Needed To Shop For Insurance. In a December 2 blog post, New Yorker staff writer John Cassidy reviewed the functionality of HealthCare.gov, where he highlighted the new shopping feature and explained that it does not require personal information before users can shop for plans:
One of the big drawbacks with the site when it launched was the lack of a "shopping" feature. Before users could find out what policies were available in their area, they had to register, create an account, and supply copious amounts of information about their family members, their Social Security numbers, their citizenship status, and their income. Then they had to wait for all that stuff to be verified. Which takes time--often, a long time.
Some Republicans have claimed that the Administration deliberately omitted the shopping feature because it was worried about the users experiencing "sticker shock" if they saw the prices of the insurance policies (although those prices didn't account for the generous subsidies many people would get). In Congressional testimony a few weeks ago, Henry Chao told a different story. The "shop around" feature failed testing, and that was why it was left out, he insisted. Nobody at the White House was involved.
Whatever really happened, the shopping feature is now part of healthcare.gov, and it's prominently displayed on the home page. Consequently, the site feels more like one of the state exchanges that have been working pretty well, such as the California site, CoveredCa, which has a "Shop and Compare" tool on its home page, illustrated by picture of a calculator. If you click on it, and click again, you arrive at a page that asks you for your Zip Code, your household income, and the number of people in your family, plus their ages. Once you enter this information, the site shows you all the insurance policies available in your area, and how much they will cost you. If you want to buy one, you go to the home page and start filling out an application.
That's pretty much how commercial e-commerce sites work, and it's also how President Obama promised that healthcare.gov would function. On October 1st, he said, "Just visit healthcare.gov, and there you can compare insurance plans, side by side, the same way you'd shop for a plane ticket on Kayak or a TV on Amazon."
This is precisely the sort of information that individuals and families who don't have any health-care coverage need to have at their fingertips. [The New Yorker, Rational Irrationality, 12/2/13, emphasis added]
NPR: Shopping Function "One Of The Biggest Improvements" To HealthCare.gov. On December 5, NPR's Morning Edition covered several new functions of HealthCare.gov, featuring commentary from Consumer Reports senior editor Nancy Metcalf, and reporting that the anonymous shopping feature as one of the "biggest improvements" of the site:
One of the biggest improvements is in what's known as the website's window shopping function. That's where you can look at plans available in your area without having to create an account first. It had one before, but it wasn't very helpful. Among other things, it provided prices only for people ages 27 to 50.
The new shopping function is, well, functional. There's a button on the home page where you provide your age and ZIP code, and it gives you a list of plans and actual prices. Those are not the prices you'll pay if you're eligible for a government subsidy. Those might be lower. And, as they say, there's more.
"You can click through to the plan's website to see their provider directory and their list of preferred drugs; really useful for consumers, and something even some of the better state exchanges don't even have yet," [Metcalf] said. "So it's night and day." [NPR, Morning Edition, 12/5/13]
FactCheck.org: "HealthCare.gov Allows Visitors To Anonymously Surf The Site To Compare Health Plans On The Federal Exchange." On December 2, FactCheck.org reported that improvements to HealthCare.gov's anonymous shopping feature had increased the accuracy of the monthly payment estimates available to those who wanted to browse available health insurance policies and obtain estimates without having to create an account, but still isn't completely accurate for smokers:
The so-called window shopping feature on HealthCare.gov has been improved and, as a result, so has the accuracy of the site's estimated monthly premiums.
HealthCare.gov allows visitors to anonymously surf the site to compare health plans on the federal exchange and obtain premium estimates without having to create an account. But this window shopping tool, as we previously wrote, provided inaccurate estimates in many cases because it did not consider a person's specific age, household size or tobacco use -- all factors that can greatly affect premiums.
But the site now asks visitors to provide specific ages for each household member when estimating the cost of premiums. That change was one of many recent improvements that have been made to the website. The new and improved anonymous shopper tool went live overnight on Dec. 1, the Associated Press reported.
Our experience shows that HealthCare.gov now provides accurate estimates for non-smokers. But smokers in most states should know that the prices they wind up paying may be higher than the estimates they see on HealthCare.gov. [FactCheck.org, 12/2/13]