Enrolling in state health insurance exchanges might be hardest for those who need them most

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is happening, and states are getting ready to implement it. But will those who need insurance the most be able to use the Health Insurance Exchange websites?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is happening, and states are getting ready to implement it. Later on this year, sometime between the end of summer and October, state health insurance exchanges (HIX) will start enrolling Americans for coverage.

The problem? It's the same old story many organizations have faced when designing their web content. Is it better to optimize for the mobile user or for the folks with the broadband connections sitting at their laptops or desktop computers?

These days, more and more people have only a mobile phone to take the place of both land line and computer. According to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life project, populations who do most of their online browsing via mobile phones include almost half of 18-29 year olds, 51% of African Americans, and 42% of Latinos. This mobile trend is also prevalent for households earning less than $50K per year, and among people who haven't graduated from college.

Unfortunately, because of the timelines and complexity involved in a project of this magnitude, according to Curtis Kwak, CIO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, desktop browser implementation took precedence. Quality mobile access probably won't be available until next fall when version 2 is rolled out.

This means that basically, the people who are going to need the HIXes the most are the folks who are going to have the hardest time accessing and using them. Based on the demographics involved, maybe the designers should have optimized for mobile users!

Hey, it's always easier to criticize than create, and this is a huge project. I get that. But why is it that sites for government services always look like something the cat barfed up, when we all know what a nicely designed website looks and feels like, whether on desktop based browsers or on mobile devices? We know quality is possible because we visit and use good sites every day.

It'll be interesting to see what the HIXes look like this fall, and after they're optimized later on. Oops, I almost forgot. We're supposed to call them Health Insurance Marketplaces now, aren't we? I'm rooting for you, HIXes. Here's hoping your online presence is as as awesome as it should be if it's going to be held up to scrutiny against other online marketplaces. Then again, when compared with the websites of the mobile phone companies themselves, maybe it's a good idea to reimagine what might be possible.