Thursday, May 14, 2009

AHIP Insurance Course

Last week, I completed an introduction to insurance course, Fundamentals of Health Insurance - Part A (Basics of Health Insurance), offered by AHIP, America's Health Insurance Plans, a coalition of health insurance companies. I had decided to take the course online to save paper and money. To prepare for the exam, I studied for a couple of hours every night last week. I had already read all of the material, but it was quite a bit of information to remember, so I was reviewing it and going through the study guide. I took the test Friday and passed. However, I wasn't offered the opportunity to offer any feedback on the course, so I would like to here.

First, I had a number of problems accessing the presentation online. When I would try to load the presentation in Firefox, I received an error message from Java. I tried it on Internet Explorer and received the same message. I checked my version of Java, and it appeared to be up-to-date. I also check my security settings in both Firefox and Internet Explorer. Nothing seemed to be blocking it. I also checked my firewall, but since I was in a hurry, I didn't check it thoroughly. So then I tried my wife's laptop, which is less secure than my desktop PC in terms of browser security and firewall settings, and it worked. I studied using her computer for a few weeks until I had some time to investigate issues on my PC. Finally, I manually updated Java and changed my firewall settings to asked about network connections. It turned out that the Java applet AHIP was using was out-of-date, and I had to allow an exception. I'm not sure if the update or the firewall change resolved the issue, but it worked on my PC.

The presentation itself was also problematic. The data presented was out-of-date by at least 10 years, as the presentation only included data up to the 90s. It appeared that many of the terms, definitions, and trends were also quite out-of-date. The presentation also included a number of "Knowledge Checks" to see if you were understanding the material. About 90% of the time, these questions were completely irrelevant to the material. At first I thought they were from a different chapter, but now that I've finished reading the material, I don't think they were even from the right course. The answers to the questions were not provided in ANY of the material. Fortunately, these questions were only intended to help the student study and did not count toward the final grade. I'm not even sure AHIP even kept track of the answers.

I had contacted AHIP about both problems - with access and the questions - however, they were not much help. The guidance on updating my PC did not help, nor did the tip that "these intermediary quizzes are not graded" - basically saying "skip them". Open the following link to view the email conversation with the AHIP representative:

At any rate, I was able to overcome these issues, study the material, and pass the test. There were issues with the test, too. The location for accessing the test was oddly placed at the end of the presenation content. If you clicked on it before you were ready or before your test time, that took up 1 of 2 test opportunities, since it would load the official test. I heard a number of people saying they accidentally clicked on it or expected it to be a practice test. This seems to be a bit of poor design.

The test format was a bit odd. It consisted of a number of frames with the browser, with a convenient clock counting down the time left for the test. The questions were multiple choice, but included poorly-written answers like 1) A and B; 2) B and C; 3) A, B, and C; 4) Only A; 5) Only C. These types of questions do not really increase the ability of the test to distinguish between those test-takers who know the material and those who do not. Simpler questions with 3 or 4 clear choices for responses would be adequate.

Some features were actually very convenient, helping the test-taker. One was the "Review" button, which once pressed would flag the question and put it on a list for you to answer later. The other was the button that showed the list of questions to review. The next button, as I heard from a colleague, changed from "Next" to "Submit" on the last question, which is not good if you're not paying attention to the number of questions you've answered. She clicked Submit by accident, without reviewing the questions she had flagged, and as a result, failed the test. Once I completed the test, a list of the questions I answered correctly appeared. Apparently there was a link at the bottom that showed the total percent correct, but I did not see it. I clicked the "Home" button to check to see if I passed the test. When I went back, it did not load the test results. I suppose it was a safety mechanism so that the user does not overwrite a test that was just taken, which would not be good, especially if the taker passes it the first time and fails it the second.

Although all of these problems were present, I did learn quite a bit. The course had a lot of good information about how the insurance industry works and huge number of common terms and definitions. There was some information I did not find as relevant, for example, commissions for agents/brokers, but it would certainly be useful for someone in those fields or working with those fields. I heard feedback from my co-workers that sounded similar to my experiences, but I found that a lot of people order the books. I feel that's a bit wasteful; however, it would have avoided the problems with the online presentation and questions. In the end, the information I learned was very useful, but the presentation could have been better. I hope AHIP reviews the presentation and content and updates the content to include new data and up-to-date definitions.