HHS Launches Health Care Options Website

HHS Launches Health Care Options Website

On July 1st, the US Department of Health and Human Services launched a new website (healthcare.gov)  to empower people with information and resources about their health care. The website is organized for 6 groups of users: 1) families with children; 2) individuals; 3) people with disabilities; 4) seniors; 5) young adults; and 6) employers. The site helps people find information on their insurance options, learn tips tailored to their particular condition/age on prevention and how to stay healthy, and understand the various components of the new health care reform laws.

It also helps people compare hospitals using 44 quality of care measures. This section links to HospitalCompare.hhs.gov, a web tool created by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), HHS, and members of the Hospital Quality Alliance. In the past, this site only had data about the quality of care provided to hospital inpatients. As of July 7, 2010, however, it now has “data on the rates of outpatient MRIs for low back pain, outpatient re-tests after a screening mammogram, as well as two ratios that explain how frequently outpatient departments gave patients ‘double’ computed tomography (CT) scans when a single scan may be all that is needed….[It] also includes new measures that show whether outpatients who are treated for suspected heart attacks receive proven therapies that reduce mortality such as an aspirin at arrival, and how well outpatient surgical patients are protected from infection,” (see CMS press release). In the future, comparison information for nursing homes and dialysis centers will also be added, based on language in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) that requires broader quality of care information to be publicly available.

The section on health reform is extensive and provides a summary of the legislation, links to the law’s text and major provisions, and detailed information on 7 major topic areas. These areas include: the pre-existing condition plan, how health reform strengthens Medicare, young adult coverage, early retiree coverage, small employer tax credits, the Patients’ Bill of Rights, and the $250 Part D donut hole rebate. This section also provides a timeline for what’s changing and when according to the health care reform law.

As this is a new website, HHS invites comments and feedback to help make it even better. Some additional website improvements on the way include a full Spanish translation, which will be available at the end of July, and price information for private insurance plans, which will be available in October 2010.

The website is a first of its kind, providing over 500 pages of information in a user friendly, easily search-able way. In fact, according to White House New Media Director, Macon Phillips, this site’s design was inspired and guided by the question, “How would [a travel website like] kayak.com approach health insurance?” The result is a design with simple, focused searching that allows users to answer a few short questions and quickly find the info they require.

Questions and suggestions regarding healthcare.gov can be sent to public@who.eop.gov.

For more information on health reform and Medicare, see our article, “What Does Health Reform Mean for Medicare Beneficiaries? Summary of Key Provisions.”

Our blogger Karen J. Fletcher is CHA's publications consultant. She provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare, health disparities and other health care issues. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she serves in health advocacy as a trainer and consultant. See her current articles.