MARYLAND: 2016 Window Shopping Now Live!

With the 2016 Open Enrollment Period quickly approaching (it launches on November 1st), the Maryland Health Connection has already officially launched 2016 Window Shopping!

They even whipped up a simple video stepping you through the process (oddly, the background music seems to have been lifted from "There's Something About Mary", which is either a good or bad omen depending on your POV):

I've poked around the MD exchange, and have some praise as well as one complaint about how the site is set up (note that I'm not sure how many of these features are changed from last year). Most of the praise has to do with cost sharing reductions, which are only available for silver plans (for those under 250% of the Federal Poverty Line). Most people know about the APTC (Advance Premium Tax Credits) which lower the monthly premiums for those under 400% FPL, but very few know anything about CSR assistance, which cuts deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance down to size for those under 250% FPL.

Unfortunately, most of the ACA exchanges (including the Big One, Healthcare.Gov which will be covering 38 states this year) haven't done a good job of emphasizing CSR, which can make a huge difference for those who qualify.

Fortunately, the Maryland exchange is doing a very good job of calling attention to CSR in several different ways:

First up: When you enter your household income on the first screen, if it's below 250% FPL the CSR info is clearly listed (and even listed above the APTC info). Clicking the little question mark icon gives a pop-up with further info (and stresses that it's available for Silver plans only):

The only suggestion I'd make here is to display "Available for Silver plans only!" without having to click the "more info" icon, but that's a minor quibble.

Next up: There's a big note at the top of the next screen reminding people to check to make sure their doctor is in-network. Out-of-network doctors/hospitals have caused a lot of problems/confusion for people the past couple of years, so it's good that Maryland is calling attention to this up front:

Next: The MD website defaults to Silver plans (even for those who don't qualify for CSR assistance). This is a very good thing. Furthermore, they've included a notice on the "plan selection" page which states right off the bat what the Silver/CSR thing is all about. I think the text is a little overwhelming and would try to shorten it up if possible, but it's still great that they're hammering people over the head with this:

Finally, here's my only quibble: Take a look at the "Estimated Monthly Premium" section. Can you make out how much the original premium rate (without tax credits) is? It's barely legible--a tiny font, printed in a color which almost disappears into the background. In addition, the original $3,000 deductible (ie, without CSR assistance) isn't listed at all:

It may sound stupid, but this is vitally important. People love getting a discount, and it's important that they understand how the Tax Credit system works in order to avoid confusion when reading/hearing about the ACA in the media.

Here's an admittedly crude version of how I would display the premiums (not to mention the CSR assistance), using the example above:

Do you see my point? People love getting a bargain/discount. You see this in retail stores all the time, with the big "MARKED DOWN!" and "INSTANT REBATE!" tags slapped on the products. In addition, as noted above, it's important to educate people as much as possible about how the APTC/CSR assistance works in order to battle the flood of misinformation coming from anti-ACA media outlets, pundits and polticians.