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HealthCare.Gov v2.0: Software Developers Create Site To Trump Obamacare Site Woes

As the Affordable Care Act site still struggles, a trio of software developers has banded together to create a user-friendly solution that actually works.

What does a software developer do when he can't get on the HealthCare.gov site? He builds his own. And, that's exactly what the three founders of Health Sherpa did.

When George Kalogeropoulos, Ning Liang and Michael Wasser lost their own existing healthcare plans, like many Americans, they turned to the Affordable Care Act's website to find new ones. But after clicking around the site, the trio quickly got frustrated.

"This is ridiculous," Kalogeropoulos recalled saying at the time. "We consider ourselves pretty good at computers and were having a heck a time trying to get this to work," he continued.

[Related: Obamacare Site Disaster: 10 Steps Solution Providers Would Take To Fix It ]

Three days later, the trio had a first-take version of a user experience-focused site using the public data available from the government. The site, called Health Sherpa, is as easy as entering a zip code, checking some boxes about personal qualifications and then choosing from the eligible plans. The site then links to the insurance sites and contact information for each qualifying plan so visitors can sign themselves up, without ever having to go through the HealthCare.gov site.

"If you're going to implement the Affordable Care Act, you’ve got to have the mechanisms to make it really easy for everyone, from the computer illiterate to the tech savvy, to sign up and get insurance," Kalogeropoulos said.

The Health Sherpa site launch comes after two months of problems associated with the Affordable Care Act flagship site HealthCare.gov and back-end systems. The Health Sherpa site was first launched at the beginning of November, but it has been rapidly gaining momentum since, Kalogeropoulos said.

The site has already surpassed 500,000 visitors with more than 1.7 million page views, Kalogeropoulos told CRN.

The focus for the site is completely on providing the easiest user experience possible, Kalogeropoulos said. When he went on the Healthcare.gov site, Kalogeropoulos said he, Liang and Wasser counted more than 16 clicks to get plan estimates, with most of those clicks resulting in the user having to wade through information, disclaimers or unrelated pages, which was much too many, he said.

However, the comparison of Health Sherpa to the larger HealthCare.gov site is not an "apples to apples comparison," Kalogeropoulos said. The leg up that the Health Sherpa has over the government is that, as a startup, the group is able to experiment more and cut back on areas most users don't need, such as targeting the site for the visually impaired, a compliance the government must meet.

"Cutting those corners saves a ton of time and money," Kalogeropoulos said.

NEXT: Why The Government Struggled So Much With The Rollout


Health Sherpa's Kalogeropoulos said that he didn't blame the contractors associated with the site for the flop, calling them "extremely competent."

"We're standing on the shoulders of giants because they're the ones who put it together," Kalogeropoulos said. "It's just public data, [so] let's just make it easier to see."

However, he said he thinks policy decisions along the way, such as having to sign up for an account prior to browsing, crippled the rollout by making it extremely difficult for contractors to comply with all of the rules and regulations.

"The government can't do any of that because they're so risk averse," Kalogeropoulos said.

Members of the government are already recommending the site to users who are looking to get signed up for health insurance before the HealthCare.gov site is fully functional.

"HealthSherpa offers a user-friendly platform to quickly browse through available health insurance plan options, including monthly premium costs, coverage plans, and possible premium subsidies," Maine Senator Angus King said in a statement. "I recommend that Mainers who are having trouble with HealthCare.gov use HealthSherpa as a temporary alternative until the federal website functions properly."

Kalogeropoulos said he is also meeting with the CTO for the Department of Health and Human Services to discuss improvements for the main site.

Kalogeropoulos said the site has been receiving tons of feedback on the site, with many thanking them for making the process so easy. He said the development trio have been responding to feedback asking for additional features such as pharmaceutical and deductible information and are working to add additional features to the site.

The group is not currently planning to monetize the site, though they have had offers to do so. Kalogeropoulos said the group is currently doing the project as a public service, but they will consider monetizing it if there is an alternative available that will not inhibit the user experience on the site.

The site is currently being improved to add insurance information and expanded to include all of the state databases, which are not currently all on the site. Kalogeropoulos said they added Idaho, New Mexico and New York to the Health Sherpa site, with more to come. Additional insurance information on deductibles, copays and maximum out of pocket are being added as well.

PUBLISHED NOV. 18, 2013

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