Our Work

HealthCare.gov / CoveredCA.com

In early 2014, gotoresearch was hired by the California HealthCare Foundation to conduct usability testing on HealthCare.gov and CoveredCA.com, two of the portals created as part of the new, controversial healthcare laws in the U.S.

We anticipated that people would experience wrong turns and blockades at every step. After all, HealthCare.gov and state-run insurance marketplaces like CoveredCA.com were a major story in the news when they opened in October 2013. When we tested the sites, however, we found a mix of good and bad design. We encountered elements that ran counter to all known best practices of UI design that frustrated even the most patient participants, and some that guided confused individuals down the right path.

Observing real people as they tried to use HealthCare.gov and CoveredCA.com gave us the opportunity to connect the people who use the sites with the people who made them. Showing people struggle to complete basic tasks and form misconceptions about what they were doing painted a clear picture of what needed to be done to make these sites more successful.

24Field Testing Participants

75hours of video edited

“This information will be used to help us further refine, further improve and make it a much more consumer [focused] experience.”


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    Remote interviews were conducted with 35 people, sharing their desktop and webcam when available as they explored the site details, previewed plan options, completed the application, and (sometimes) enrolled in plans.

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    Eight participants were interviewed in their homes rather than remotely, which illuminated the context of use. Participants dug through stacks of paper to find the right documents and called family members into the room to make decisions.


In-depth results were shared with team members and site creators to help improve even the smallest details of the sites. Findings were rated as High, Medium, and Low Impact to help prioritize improvements. Executive presentations were also created. These reports and highlight videos are available on CHCF’s website: CoveredCA.com and HealthCare.gov



Stakeholders discovered that usability testing allowed them to observe the exact moments when the difficulty that individuals experienced entering data into form fields turned to anger and saw firsthand how an overwhelming number of plan options led participants to abandon the application process.

Video Highlights


Results of these studies were shared with those who could make an impact on the site design. Meetings were held with site California officials in Sacramento, CA and federal officials remotely in Baltimore, MD. A live public webinar attended by a few hundred people was also presented and an article was published in UXPA Magazine.



Using remote and contextual research allowed gotoresearch to uncover behaviors and unmet needs for consumers shopping for health insurance. Actionable recommendations provided opportunity to significantly increase application completion rates.