HealthPocket Offers a Partial Workaround for Healthcare.gov Mess

12/2/13Follow @tanseyverse

As thousands of Americans struggle to sign up for health insurance on the overloaded government exchange set up under the Affordable Care Act, two Bay area companies are offering their own free Web platforms as easier places to shop around.

Both HealthPocket of Sunnyvale, CA, and HealthSherpa in San Francisco provide one-click access to a snapshot of the plans available in each US region. One of the many complaints about the government site, HealthCare.gov, was the requirement that consumers enter extensive personal data before they could see any plan data and get a sense of the cost range. The two user-friendly private sites have been drawing visitors and press coverage, while the debut of the government marketplaces has been clouded by criticism of government stumbles. But HealthPocket CEO Bruce Telkamp says his company’s online consumer guide has only been possible because of something government officials did right.

The government has been making details about the coverage terms of health insurance plans accessible through public databases and other means, he says. This provides an opening for private industry to download the information, and possibly augment the services that government agencies provide.

“The data’s newly available,” Telkamp says. HealthPocket’s goal is to post it all as part of an independent, transparent marketplace that will force health plans to compete based on price, value, and the quality of care in their networks of physicians and hospitals, he says.

“That level of competition has never really been known in the health insurance context,” Telkamp says.

HealthPocket isn’t a perfect workaround for HealthCare.gov’s current problems. More insurance plan data still needs to be released, for example. But HealthPocket hopes to build a substantial business as an alternative, unbiased marketplace.

By tapping into the public databases, the three young programmers who recently launched HealthSherpa took only a few days to set it up, CNN reported.

Like the HealthPocket site, HealthSherpa shows a list of plans and monthly premiums after visitors type in as little as a zip code.

HealthPocket has built in more extensive features, such as explanations of health plan basics, information about plan deductibles and out-of-pocket costs to consumers, more selection criteria to narrow down personal plan choices, and a search option to find out which local doctors work with which plans. In addition to plans for individuals and their families, HealthPocket also shows Medicare and Medicaid plans, small business insurance plans, dental coverage, and short-term plans for people in transition.

Users don’t need to provide their names, and they can enter several consumer profiles to see how plan costs would vary for different individuals. For example, visitors can type in different ages, or regions of the country.

HealthPocket started gearing up for its launch more than a year ago, because the health industry veterans who founded it foresaw a niche for a for-profit technology company, particularly when Obamacare expands coverage to millions of Americans in early 2014. Telkamp says the company’s founders predicted a bumpy  start for HealthCare.gov and the state marketplaces set up to implement Obamacare.

“We recognized that the government exchanges would have problems,” Telkamp says.  “They likely wouldn’t be a good user experience.”  Telkamp and his co-founder Sheldon Wang had been senior executives at eHealth, which pioneered online sales of health plans in 1997 through its unit eHealthInsurance.

Telkamp says the online brokerages that sell plans work with selected health insurance company partners, so they don’t display all the choices in the marketplace.

HealthPocket does not sell plans or sign people up.  The company’s goal is to provide unbiased … Next Page »

Bernadette Tansey is a freelance journalist based in Berkeley, CA. Follow @tanseyverse

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  • Kay

    There’s also healthswami.com… I like theirs better out of all three.

  • Nate

    Try eHealthInsurance.com – it actually works, end to end.