A while back I made an attempt to use healthcare.gov to acquire health insurance. The experience was … unpleasant. Here are some things that irked me:


It's broken without JS. While this is incredibly common, it will always garner a complaint from me. If I am in a browser I do not want an "app-like" experience, I want a web-like experience.

It includes JS from third parties. Look, maybe you trust Google, MxPnl, or Optimizely, but I sure don't. On the bright side, it worked even without running JS from those companies—though I don't know whether the credit goes to NoScript's surrogates or the HC.gov developers.


It felt very sluggish while I was attempting to use it. When I entered my zip code, it would miss keystrokes. E.g., if I keyed in "90210", what appeared in the field would be more like "91". Clearly it's doing a network request to give me a list of cities, but is it doing it synchronously or something? Because wow is that a terrible experience.

Poor Name Handling

It told me my first name was invalid. I'm used to systems mucking up other parts of my name, but that was a new one. Unfortunately, I don't remember what I originally tried to enter. (Probably my initials, since that's what I go by.)

The name suffix is a select. It contains Sr., Jr., III, IV, and sometimes V. So much for Henry VIII. Or me, for that matter, because I'm a II (NB: Jr. and II are not equivalent). I think in the end I made the suffix part of my last name.

Notice that sometimes V? That's because I came across two name selects. The second was missing the V, which means the two selects aren't even pulling from the same source. (For that matter, why am I entering this data multiple times? Last I checked computers were really good at copying. Just ask the MPAA.)

Lousy Identity Verification

Identity verification systems are pretty much always terrible because they pretend public information is a shared secret, and this is no exception. My name and address are both public, and my SSN might as well be given the number of organizations that have it on file. The credit bureaus they use to verify my identity, for example, are companies I have never directly interacted with or provided any information to, and yet they have all this information. When third parties have your data through no fault of your own, that's pretty much the definition of non-private data.

The follow-up identity verification questions are at least as terrible. One of them was "County for the provided address". What is that even verifying? That I know what address I just gave you?

Multiple Paper Forms, Now Online

I think I accepted the privacy policy something like half a dozen times. And had to enter my personal information—address, e-mail, etc.—multiple times as well. Did they just do a direct translation of the various paper forms to the web or something? Because that's awful.

Even some of Q&A walkthrough steps felt like paper forms directly copied to the web. "Did you recently lose coverage?" "Yes." "Are you losing coverage in the next 60 days?" … I'm pretty sure the answer to the first question makes the second one not applicable!

Unnecessary Info Required

As far as I can tell, insurance rates must be the same regardless of sex, so why does it require me to specify that? Also, the error for failure to fill out the sex field is hilarious: "select at least one item". Naturally, it enforces a gender binary and doesn't allow you to pick both.

It requires a phone number. So what do people without phones do? Or people who just plain don't like phones. Alas, I did not attempt to enter an invalid number like 555-0123, so maybe it takes those? I used a voicemail-only number I maintain specifically for such forms.

Unclear Results

So when I finally got all the way through, what are the results of my application? It says "Eligible to purchase health coverage through the Marketplace", and I think "Yay, I can finally move on to the thing I was actually trying to accomplish!". So I keep reading in the "What should I do next?" section and it tells me "You cannot choose or change plans at this time…".

Have I been mistaken about the meaning of eligible all these years? Because I thought it meant you can do something, and it's telling me the opposite. I get what it's telling me now—I could, if only some other conditions were met—but wow is that ever confusing.

Suspicious Goodbye

Defeated, stressed, and missing hours of my life I'll never get back, I log out. That takes me to cuidadodesalud.gov, whereupon I am presented with a blank page. (JS is not enabled for that domain because I've never been there, obvs.) I guess that's the Spanish version of healthcare.gov? Not sure why it decided to send me there, but after a long frustrating experience, being dumped onto a suspicious letter salad domain is a fitting cherry on top.

Final Thoughts

I guess on the upside all my complaints are about details, which means at some level it's at least functional. But I think I'd rather pay the fine for not having health insurance than put myself through that a second time, which pretty much defeats the entire point of the site.

May 2017

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