2018 MedicareWebWatch Project Certification FAQs

What organization administers the MedicareWebWatch Project certification program?

HealthMetrix Research Inc., an independent managed care research organization, developed and administers the MedicareWebWatch Project voluntary certification program.

What is the scope of website features that the MedicareWebWatch Project certification program addresses?

The certification program addresses four website categories covering 50 features:

  • Plan-specific and external content (13 features)
  • Member connectivity and solutions (22 features)
  • Design and navigation (6 features)
  • Transparency and advanced content (9 features)

Upon successful certification, what resources and deliverables are available to each Medicare plan?

The following licensed resources and deliverables are available upon successful certification.

  • 2018 MedicareWebWatch certification seal for display in print and electronic media
  • 2018 MedicareWebWatch certification status page link
  • 2018 MedicareWebWatch customized news release
  • 2019 website build-out recommendations

Are there fees associated with the MedicareWebWatch Project certification program and resources?

Yes, HealthMetrix Research has established the fee schedule below for the certification review and licensing program.

  • 2018 certification annual licensing fee: $2,400.00
    (Valid through January 31, 2019)
  • Consultation webinar for both certified and non-certified websites: $750.00
    (The $750.00 consultation webinar fee will be credited to the annual certification fee) 

Do Medicare plans have the opportunity to modify their websites based on the results of the initial certification and request a follow-up review?

Yes, HealthMetrix Research provides the initial certification review results and will conduct a follow-up review within 60 days, upon request.

Are Section 508 accessibility standards validated to ensure website compliance?

Yes.  The MedicareWebWatch Project tests Section 508 accessibility compliance for each website.

What about the CMS Guidelines (Chapter 100) for websites?

HealthMetrix Research assumes that Medicare plan websites meet the CMS website content and design criteria, although the CMS criteria are less comprehensive in scope than for MedicareWebWatch Project certification.

If a plan does not meet all the MedicareWebWatch Project criteria, does HealthMetrix Research provide recommendations to help meet the criteria?


What information has HealthMetrix Research provided to CMS regarding the MedicareWebWatch Project certification program?

HealthMetrix Research president Alan Mittermaier presented an overview about the MedicareWebWatch Project certification program on October 8, 2009 to the CMS Marketing Product Consistency Team (PCT). Attendees included staff from the CMS Division of Policy, Analysis & Planning along with marketing reviewers from all 10 CMS regional offices. There are no compliance issues related to displaying and/or distributing the MedicareWebWatch certification images and news release on plan websites or print media.

Does HealthMetrix Research receive external funding or sponsorship for conducting the MedicareWebWatch Project certification program?





What Prevents MA Plans from Offering 5-Star Websites? (Part 1)

Posted by Alan Mittermaier

While only a handful of 2018 Medicare Advantage plans can boast 5-Star CMS overall performance ratings (total of 11 by my count), every plan is capable of building a 5-Star website for their key target audiences — plan members, caregivers, prospects.  Yet, after mapping Medicare plan websites annually since 2009 for the MedicareWebWatch Project, it is still disappointing to observe the low engagement experience among so many websites.

The new 2018 MedicareWebWatch Project findings breakout 9 “Benchmark” or 5-Star websites plus another 34 “Distinguished” websites.  These highly-rated websites are  not exclusively among the largest Medicare Advantage players.  Many mid-size plan websites are among the highest rated as well.  The common thread among these “Benchmark” and  “Distinguished” websites is their commitment to elevating the user engagement experience.

As a Medicare Advantage plan member and 68 year old boomer, I have a first-hand perspective both from navigating all 160 Medicare plan websites recently and from my daily use of an array of websites for personal purposes — news, banking, travel, health information, shopping.  For starters, here are 5 simple bolt-on features that every Medicare plan website should provide for enhancing the user engagement experience — with examples.

  1. Site Map — Over 20% (33 of 160) of sites fail to provide a site map in either a drop-down format or a dedicated page.  This is comparable to publishing a book without a table of contents.  Aetna and  PrimeTime Health Plan provide the best examples.  No excuses for making website visitors  guess the location of content they wish to view.
  2. Search Box — Over 20% (33 of 160) of sites do not bother to provide a topic search box for either site-only search or Google internet search.  The search box feature is comparable to the index in a book.  Examples are numerous so I randomly picked CDPHP as a sure winner.  Again, why leave visitors guessing where to locate content?
  3. Security Certificate Display — Only 21% (33 of 160) of sites bother to display their security certification anywhere.  Yes, visitors may be aware of being on a secured site if they recognize the URL address with https://.  Even though few Medicare plan sites handle payment transactions, visitors still appreciate the assurance that they are accessing a secured site.  For examples, visit Horizon BCBS or Kaiser Permanente sites and scroll to the bottom of the home page.
  4. Medicare Fraud and Abuse Alert  — Almost unbelievable that 13% (20 of 160) of sites do not provide basic information on reporting Medicare fraud or abuse.  This is one of the most common scams targeting Medicare beneficiaries and involves simple messaging to keep older adults aware.  Many good examples but try Providence Health Assurance or HAP for posting scam alerts.
  5. Website Feedback — Only 32% (51 of 160) of sites invite or encourage visitor feedback about their website experience.  Foresee, Opinion Lab, Survey Monkey  are the most common proprietary pop-up surveys but a simple email click option is the easiest way to allow visitors to provide kudos or criticism that can verify the user experience.   Check out the Opinion Lab option at BCBS Michigan.

(This is the first in a series highlighting the 2018 MedicareWebWatch Project findings)

Kaiser Permanente edges MVP Health Care for #1 Medicare Advantage Website Honors

Posted by Alan Mittermaier

Congratulations to Kaiser Permanente and its Medicare Advantage plan website, Medicare.KaiserPermanente.org, on repeating as winner of the 2018 “Madness in March” competition among 160 Medicare plan websites surveyed by HealthMetrix Research Inc.  Since 2009, this is the seventh year that Kaiser Permanente’s website has been recognized as the overall top Medicare Advantage website.   Kaiser Permanente’s website advanced through five rounds of matchups that featured 32 top-scoring Medicare Advantage websites.  Other semifinalists included Aetna, MVP Health Care and Priority Health.  The complete “Madness in March” bracket results can be viewed at — 2018 MWW Madness bracket FINAL

The annual independent MedicareWebWatch Project tracked 50 common and advanced features across four categories — content, member connectivity, design, transparency.   HealthMetrix Research recognized a total of 9 “benchmark” and 34 “distinguished” Medicare plan websites in a February 15 PRNewswire release.  See additional details about MedicareWebWatch website certification at – www.MedicareWebWatch.com

MedicareWebWatch National Certification Recognizes Benchmark & Distinguished 2018 Medicare Advantage Websites

Columbus, OH (February 15, 2018) – HealthMetrix Research Inc., an independent research firm, announces the selection of 43 Medicare Advantage plan websites for MedicareWebWatch national certification.  MedicareWebWatch national certification recognizes excellence in Medicare plan website content, member connectivity, design and transparency.  Nine “benchmark” websites and 34 “distinguished” websites were selected from 160 Medicare Advantage websites after comprehensive site reviews.

According to HealthMetrix Research Inc. president Alan Mittermaier, “These best-of-breed websites demonstrate their growing value as an asset for Medicare Advantage plans to achieve enrollment and customer satisfaction goals.  Providing a high-value, positive website experience that engages plan members and caregivers will also deliver outstanding return on investment in the long-term.  HealthMetrix Research is pleased to recognize these organizations for their forward-looking commitment to website relevance and readiness.”

MedicareWebWatch national certification is based on HealthMetrix Research’s mapping methodology that weighs 50 website features related to:  plan-specific content; external content resources; member connectivity; design and navigation; transparency and privacy disclosure.  Certification details are available at www.MedicareWebWatch.com.  HealthMetrix Research Inc. neither recommends nor endorses specific Medicare plans or products.

Benchmark Websites

Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan
Kaiser Permanente
MVP Health Plan
Priority Health
Providence Health Plans

Distinguished Websites

Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield
ATRIO Health Plans
Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts
Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan
Blue Cross Blue Shield Rhode Island
Blue Cross Blue Shield Western NY
Blue Shield Northeastern NY
Capital Blue Cross
Care N’ Care
Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield
Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield
Fallon Health Plan
Florida Blue
Florida Health Care Plans
Health Alliance Plan
Health First
Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield
HMSA Blue Cross Blue Shield Hawaii
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield
Independent Blue Cross
Independent Health
MCS Classicare
Peoples Health
Presbyterian Health Plan
Rocky Mountain Health Plans
Security Health Plan
Soundpath Health
Tufts Health Plan

Trusted External Content Still Lacking on Most Medicare Advantage Websites

Trusted external content represents an overlooked asset that is seldom incorporated on Medicare Advantage plan websites.  Frankly, it puzzles me as both a Medicare Advantage plan member and as a website consultant familiar with all 150+ MA plan websites that such content is unavailable to plan members and caregivers.  Too many MA websites simply display the minimum external content or links required by CMS Medicare Marketing Guidelines, e.g., Medicare.gov.  Many websites also include SSA.gov but little more.

Below are two trusted external content resources that should be available on every MA plan website for enhancing user engagement.  Best of all — the content is totally free!

Below are two trusted external content resources that should be available on every MA plan website for enhancing user engagement.  Best of all — the content is totally free!


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2018 Medicare Marketing Guidelines Impose Minimal New Website Compliance Hurdles

Posted by Alan Mittermaier

The delayed posting of the CY 2018 Medicare Marketing Guidelines on July 20th reveals only modest changes pertaining to Medicare Advantage/Part D website compliance.  Areas involving new and existing compliance clarification include the following:

60.4 – Formulary and Formulary Change Notice Requirements  (pp. 27-28)
60.4.3 – Changes to Printed and Posted Formularies  (p.28)

Comment:  Both of the above clarifications favor document eDelivery opt-in for plan members.

100.4 – Online Formulary, Utilization Management (UM), and Notice Requirements (p.71)

Comment:  Previous online notification provisions become “must” requirements.

100.7 – Third-Party Websites (pp.73-74)

Comment:  Includes new guidelines specifically for third-party websites defined as sites not owned by Plan/Part D sponsors, but by companies with whom Plan/Part D sponsors have contracts for the purpose of selling or promoting Medicare products.

Contact HealthMetrix Research president Alan Mittermaier for additional guidance related to 2018 website compliance and MedicareWebWatch evidence-based build-out strategies.

Why Do Medicare Advantage Plan Websites Grow Stale and Boring?

Posted by Alan Mittermaier

June 5, 2017

As a Medicare Advantage plan member and 67 year old boomer, I have first-hand perspective both from navigating all 147 Medicare plan websites recently and from my daily use of an array of websites for personal purposes — news, banking, travel, hobbies, purchases.  From such perspective, I can attest there are many more mediocre plan websites than 5-star websites.  Too many websites grow stale (even boring) and offer little good reason for plan members or caregivers to bookmark them for frequent visits.

For starters, here are tips to avoid the curse of the stale Medicare plan website.

  1. Think fresh content — The social media boom has upended how all internet users, including boomers, communicate both in terms of speed and frequency.  We go on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and similar social media platforms for fresh content.  Why should Medicare plan websites limit their appeal with predominantly static content?  Refreshing content and informing website visitors about dates for upcoming new content will increase bookmark loyalty and website stickiness.  Relying on various social media platforms for providing fresh content is well and good, however, don’t overlook the member retention value of keeping website content fresh as well.
  2. Go for transparency — Virtually every Medicare Advantage website short-changes its plan members, caregivers and prospects on transparency.  The lack of transparency is never more evident than in the presentation of CMS Star ratings.  Posting the minimum overall Star ratings proscribed by the Medicare Marketing Guidelines is of limited value to well-informed beneficiaries without supporting details.  The lone standout for full Star rating transparency is Tufts Health Plan that posts the sub-category performance Star ratings for its health plan (5 sub-categories) and drug plan (4 sub-categories).  Other areas lacking in transparency are the posting of drug formulary changes and Medicare national coverage determinations (NCDs).
  3. Member portals matter — Nearly 75% of all Medicare plan websites offer a member-only portal feature, yet fewer than 50% of those member portals go beyond the basic options — e.g., member account details, billing status, change of contact information.  Engaging plan members and caregivers should be the “holy grail” for every Medicare plan website.  Offer members the capability to view their health performance — e.g., test results, wellness activity participation — against their personal goals.  Provide member-only access to health education videos, online health quizzes and interviews with healthcare professionals.  Feature recommended mobile apps and similar resources that support healthy choices and lifestyles.

(This is the fourth in a series highlighting the 2017 MedicareWebWatch project findings)