Ahead of Jan. 1, 2014, when all Americans will be required to have health insurance, insurers should be focusing on making their web presence as user-friendly and informative as possible. According to a new report from Forrester, “2013 U.S. Health Insurance Plan Online Sales Rankings,” the most popular resource for researching a new health insurance plan will be insurers’ websites.

In the report, Forrester evaluates the preparedness of several specific insurers based on a number of categories and provides best practices for the industry. For a list of the top five insurers’ websites with their overall scores, best categories and worst categories, click here.

The criteria that the insurers, overall, succeeded at most was presentation (83), followed by physician and provider locator tools (68); the worst categories overall were service content (44) and, despite the fact that Humana achieved the only perfect score of the evaluation in this category, value (52).

The report emphasized the importance of websites because of the 4,458 U.S. adults who were asked what resources they would use to research a new health plan, 39% said they would visit the plan’s website. Another 39% said they would ask friends and family, and 38% said they would seek out websites that offer information about multiple health plans, such as eHealthinsurance.com or mahealthconnector.org.

Beyond that, asking physicians or their staff for help was the fifth-most popular option (29%) and a quarter of people said they would look into government-run health insurance exchanges. The answer garnering the least interest (but still receiving 20%, as multiple answers were allowed), was calling an insurance agent or broker.

The report says that an estimated 45 million uninsured will need to seek out coverage by next year, which has left public officials and health plans scrambling to get public exchanges up and running for the Oct. 1 enrollment deadline.

Informing consumers will be another crucial part of the process, as the report points to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey that indicated four in 10 U.S. adults were not aware that the Affordable Care Act was still being implemented, and that 49% did not have enough information about the law to know how it would affect them or their family.

While Forrester offers several specific examples in the report, a couple of general best practices for getting websites prepared to inform those potential customers, include using questionnaire-based “plan advisors” to help prospects narrow down choices, making it easy to compare plans and providing a cost estimator where potential customers can try out different scenarios.

Stephani writes for Insurance Networking News, a SourceMedia publication.

 

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