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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Buying Insurance on Exchanges: It Helps to Have Help

New online marketplaces don't do enough to let consumers weigh their options, experts say

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Some exchanges more user-friendly than others

Currently, experts don't see many exchanges using these tools.

"They've obviously been busy just trying to get the lights on October 1st," Johnson said.

Blogging for Health Affairs, Krughoff and his colleagues suggest a list of ways to make health-plan choices easier. One recommendation: let users see the true insurance value of each plan. The exchanges should provide a single dollar-amount estimate of the average expected cost under each plan, Krughoff said. But based on visits to about half of the exchanges in the past two weeks, he found that few are doing so.

Several states, like Massachusetts, plan to add a cost-comparison tool, Krughoff said. And Kentucky has one allowing users to plug in data on their expected health-care uses, but it ignores the unexpected accidents and illnesses that insurance is designed to protect against, he explained.

But for the most part, "consumers will not have the tools that they need to make their best choices," he said.

City University of New York's Zarcadoolas, though, believes that consumer decision-making tools on the exchanges will improve over time. "This is a dynamic process where the sites are going to be constantly updated to be more accessible and more user-friendly," she said.

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