What Does Health Reform Mean? A New Site Has Answers

Having trouble understanding the new health reform legislation? Wondering if you're eligible for the new high-risk insurance pools? Have questions about how to extend your health insurance benefits to your under 26-year old children? You're not alone. Few Americans understood their health insurance plans before the passage of health reform legislation (even fewer understood the health care system at large) and the new regulations only added complexity. An impressive new government website can help.

According to a January poll by a leading health care consultancy, less than fifty percent of American adults understood their insurance plans. These adults not only struggled with their health coverage, they were also confused about the larger health system. Less than a quarter of those polled understood how the health system worked.

The sweeping health reform bill passed in March didn't help already puzzled Americans understand health insurance or the health care system. Few bothered to read the bill's 2,000 pages of text and political wrangling stirred persistent rumors and misinformation (see: death panels ). Additional confusion may be caused by the fact that many of the bill's details remain unspecified. For example the legislation calls for a non-profit center for comparative effectiveness research but leaves all functional details to be determined by the head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The new changes on top of an old mess presents a major issue. With the government creating new access, resources, and mandates for the health care system, how can average citizens make sense of the new mashup and reap benefits?

One answer is www(dot)HealthCare(dot)Gov. This site, launched last week by HHS, aims to help taxpayers navigate the changes imposed by health reform legislation. Despite some initial embarrassing gaffes such as endorsing P. Diddy quotes on the @healthcaregov twitter feed (reported by Politico), the site has been well received.

After some brief testing I also found the site impressive. Typically government sites are filled with overwhelming amounts of text, opaque link patterns, and poor graphics. Instead, the HHS site is easily navigated and delivers detailed information in short, easily-read bursts. The site also includes a comment feature, social media outlets including a twitter feed and YouTube channel, and a link to the Compare website which offers quality rankings and driving directions to local hospitals.

Hopefully this surprisingly useful and well-designed website will relieve some of the confusion about the health system and health reform, and help Americans access the care resources they need.

Check out the site for yourself here and post your thoughts below.

Photo credit: HHS