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New York State’s health exchange is hardest to use, study says

The health care exchange was the lowest

The health care exchange was the lowest rated in a survey by advocacy group Clear Choices. Credit:

New York’s online health insurance exchange has been rated the hardest to use by a national health consumer advocacy group.

In a study published Dec. 11, Clear Choices Campaign, an advocacy arm of the nonprofit Council for Affordable Health Coverage based in Washington, looked at the 13 state-based exchanges as well as the federal exchange,

Each was scored on 11 measures, including how easy it is to view and compare health plan options or to figure out total costs; see which plans include a customer’s doctors or drugs; and navigate the site quickly and easily.

The highest rated exchange was Kentucky’s Kynect, which scored 84. The federally run website — despite its rocky beginning three years ago when the system continually crashed — received a 63, the median score.

The NY State of Health website scored 30 out of a possible 100, the lowest. New York scored Fs for not providing a calculator that enables consumers to figure out-of-pocket costs and for not providing “integrated” search tools to see which doctors and drugs are covered in each plan. It received a B for its customized plan tool that allows the consumer to compare plans and an A for including information in multiple languages.

In a statement, a spokesman for NY State of Health said it “strongly disagrees with the findings in the report. . . . The criteria and findings in the report were not shared with NYSOH before the release of the report, and many of the features the report suggests are not available to consumers are in fact available during the application process.”

What’s more, the spokesman said, the exchange “has received high ratings from the Kaiser Family Foundation, from JD Power in its 2015 Marketplace study and importantly from consumers, in an independent study conducted by Harris Poll.”

Joe Cortelli, owner of Health Insurance Geeks, a national insurance brokerage firm based in Manhattan, also disputed the score card’s findings. “Actually it’s pretty good compared to the federal exchange,” he said referring to NY State of Health. “It’s easy to navigate offerings and prices. I would give them good grades.”

In response, Clear Choices said it based the scoring exclusively on the tools available via window-shopping — not on those “available during the application process.”

The group said that requiring consumers to share personal information online “just to get basic information about insurance options makes the shopping experience much more difficult — and is antithetical to Clear Choices’ stated goal of promoting transparency.”

Joel White, president of the campaign, said last week that while exchanges “have made substantial improvements” since they debuted in 2014, “they could still do more.” He said he hoped the report card, the first of its kind, “will add to a productive dialogue to improve tools.”

Vermont’s exchange website was not rated because, the report said, it did not allow anonymous browsing. However, a check on Friday found that the exchange did offer consumers a way to check on medical plans without divulging personal information.

Amit Rao, a senior policy analyst and an author of the study, said that “we completed the website score card from November 17-24 and during that time of study, to the best of our knowledge, the window-shopping tool was not available.”

“It appears that Vermont has updated their exchange website to provide this tool to new consumers accessing the website,” he said.

Rao said they would “evaluate Vermont’s exchange across the same criteria” and update the score card.