Are you familiar with the infinite monkey theorem? It posits that if you give a monkey a typewriter and an infinite amount of time, it will reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare. The theorem doesn’t stipulate how many monkeys it would take to design a functional health care website, but the U.S. federal government seems to have hinted that the answer is “It can’t be done.”
But it can, and in far less time than the three years it took the Obama administration to give the nation the disaster known as Healthcare.gov. Say hello to HealthSherpa. It is a fully functional health care website. It was designed over an extended weekend by three 20-year-old web designers from San Francisco. The cost to get the site up and running? A few hundred dollars.
CNN notes that the site is the brainchild of George Kalogeropoulos, Ning Liang, and Michael Wasser. The three were inspired to create the site after they all tried — and failed — to use the broken government website to get insurance. Says Kalogeropoulos:
We were surprised to see that it was actually fairly difficult to use HealthCare.gov to find and understand our options. Given that the data was publicly available, we thought that it made a lot of sense to take the data that was on there and just make it easy to search through and view available plans.
The site doesn’t have snazzy(?) design features of HealthCare.gov. There is no smiling, dark-haired lass to greet prospective enrollees. (Then again, the photo of that anonymous female was inexplicably banished from the federal website as well.) The resulting HealthSherpa site, while bare-boned, has the distinction of working. It reads:
The Health Sherpa is a free guide that makes it easier to find and sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. We only use carefully vetted, publicly available data. The Health Sherpa is not affiliated with any lobby, trade group or government agency and has no political agenda.
The absence of a political agenda is another distinction. Obviously, since the site is synced with Obamacare, it can provide policy information only for the 34 states that do not have their own health exchanges. (The rest of the time, it allows you to link out to Healthcare.gov.) But when it can provide information, what you get comes up instantly. It is, moreover, complete and accurate and includes real prices.
To test the site out, I typed in a zip code for Salt Lake City, and this is the page the site returned. Notice that the page offers options to customize the information. The default age, for example, is 35, but there is a text field allowing you to type in another age. When you do, prices and plan information change instantaneously.
You can’t actually sign up for coverage using Heath Sherpa, which according to its designers is “for research purposes only.” But, as CNN notes:
[I]t does cast light on the difference between what can be done by a small group of experts, steeped in Silicon Valley’s anything-is-possible mentality, and a massive government project in which politics and bureaucracy seem to have helped create an unwieldy mess.
Of course, you can still sign up for this monstrosity, providing it elects to work on the day you visit.
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