Plan Choice Research Results Provide Evidence Base for User Experience Design

The Pacific Business Group on Health’s Helping Vulnerable Consumers in the Exchange Project has been developing plan choice decision support rules that exchanges can use to build their consumer choice software rules. These rules are largely based on plan choice research performed by decision science experts at Columbia, Penn, and Stanford Universities. Recent research results suggest that the orientation of the plan comparison display has an impact on users’ plan choice. Specifically, researchers compared a format in which health plans were organized in columns (and plan features in rows) with a format in which plans were organized in rows (and plan features in columns).  The plans-as-columns format may make it easier for consumers to compare features across plans and to identify the best plan on any given feature.

Preliminary results indicate that study participants chose higher value plans in the plans-as-columns format.  Having plans as columns and features as rows may improve choice efficacy in part by reducing the density of text: feature headings/descriptions can be moved out of the individual plan cells and placed in a legend area. This reduces the amount of text in each cell as well as the amount of text that needs to be repeated across cells. This, in turn, makes similarities and differences across plans easier to identify. It is important to note that this research is preliminary; the plan orientation effect likely depends on several factors, including the order of the plans displayed, the order of the plan features, and the features of the plans displayed. Although preliminary, these results signal that the plan comparison format matters and should be designed with care.

The Enroll UX 2014 design, which includes a plans-as-columns format, was informed by the PBGH research as it emerged.  The research provides a growing evidence base for state and federal implementers.  For more information about the research, please see

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