The rollout to the federal website on which to purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace has not been smooth. Few people were able to sign up for accounts when the site went live on October 1 of this year, and although user numbers are rising, the site remains less than perfect. Government contractors continue to work on the site while project leaders have testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Republicans and Democrats have found common ground in the critique that the administration could have handled the rollout differently, perhaps more successfully. Here are four lessons credit unions can learn from the HealthCare.gov rollout.
Test To Perfection
Your site likely will never affect as many lives as HealthCare.gov, but it does affect your users. Members expect your website to work flawlessly, process requests instantly, and generally add to the already superior banking experience.
HealthCare.gov didn’t allow users to enroll, it crashed, it bumped people out of the system, and it froze, potentially with user information already input. Such design failures created confusion, headaches, and, in many cases, anger.
Make sure every aspect of your website or other technology works correctly before introducing it to members. Ineffective technology can cool members to the idea of using your credit union and, in the case of lost information, make them doubt the safety and security of their finances.
Have A Contingency Plan
Always have a backup plan, and always make sure that backup plan works. After all, what good is a backup generator if you don’t have gasoline?
As it is, people can purchase insurance through the ACA’s Health Insurance Marketplace in four ways: online, over the phone, through the mail, or through personal assistance. Although the website proved challenging, customers had other avenues through which to purchase insurance. These channels might not offer the speed promised by HealthCare.gov, but they are still well-needed alternatives.
Credit union products and technologies are meant for member use. If something goes wrong, they’ll know. And if something does go wrong, it’s important to be upfront and honest with your members. Explain to them the situation, why you believe something is wrong, how you are trying to fix it, and when you expect to resolve the issue. Leaving members in the dark forces them to speculate, complain, or leave, and deservedly so. As member-owned institutions, credit unions must focus on member needs. Part of that involves giving them information they want, even if it is somewhat embarrassing for the credit union.
Transparency hurt the HealthCare.gov rollout. It was clear to users that the site was not working correctly. It was slow. There were bugs. A lack of pertinent information frustrated many people trying to sign up for the insurance. When would the site be fixed? What exactly happened? What do we need to know? This lack of information manifested into threats of subpoenasby Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Lamar Alexander.
Nobody wants to go to court, so communicate openly and honestly with your members.
For whatever reasons, your website or other technology failed to work as promised. Admit you made a mistake, apologize, and salvage the member trust that remains. After all, when has high-profile lying ever done anyone any good? In addition to admitting mistakes, fix whatever went wrong and work to accommodate those who were affected.
On October 29, Marilyn Tavenner became the first HealthCare.gov high-profile official to officially apologizeon behalf of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, apologized one day later. This, and the continued efforts to fix the site are a step in the right direction for HealthCare.gov.
The government has not extended the deadline for open enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisles have argued that pushing the deadline past March 31, 2014, would allow people to understand the law, review plans, and navigate the process, helping them avoid the escalating yearly penalties that occur for the eligible but uninsured. Extending the deadline also offers a longer window through which people could sign up for the service, possibly adding customers.
Extending the deadline is as divisive an issue that exists in Washington today, and many in power Democrats and Republicans included disagree with the signal an extension would send to the American public. As of today, the future of the proposed extension is unclear.