The Affordable Care Act (ACA) marked a historic expansion of access to health care for many people, and the federal and state exchanges will be a large part of that reform. Ideally, low- and middle-income consumers will buy insurance with subsidies through online health benefit exchanges, where they can compare the price, quality, and benefits of competing plans. Millions of those consumers will be young adults. However, in order for the ACA to reach its true potential, states and the federal government must engage in active outreach to those without coverage to ensure that they take advantage of this new option.
Indeed, web portals will serve as the primary access point to the Exchanges, but could prove less ef fective than anticipated if states don’t prepare proper outreach and enrollment strategies. Perhaps surprisingly, many young people, and particularly young people of color, may have a difficult time en rolling online. Communities of color have less reli able Internet access than whites, and young people of color disproportionately use smart phones to ac cess the Internet – in fact, smart phones are often their primary way of getting online. But despite these facts, mobile devices may not sync well with Exchange web portals, creating an additional barrier to access for the most frequently un insured Americans.
According to Young Invincibles and the Greenlining Institute’s new report, removing that hurdle is vital for successful implementation of the ACA. The report, titled The Health Benefit Exchange: Will Web Portals Work as Planned?, recommends that Exchanges have mobile functionality due to the increasing reliance of young people on their smart phones to access the internet. Below are recommendations for designing the Exchanges and outreach plans that could help increase enrollment, particularly for young people:
- Mobile Outreach: State governments are currently required to come up with outreach plans to inform people about the changes coming from the ACA. By creating advertisement campaigns that allow smart phone owners to text in their number to receive further information about Exchanges, states could easily connect with a large number of people. A similar campaign, text4baby, has reached over 175,000 moms to deliver prenatal information.
- Smartphone Enrollment App: To better reach young people, states and the federal government should develop a fully functional application for the exchange. This app would be designed specifically with smart phones in mind and allow users to complete the entire exchange process from their phone. Apps are an improvement over websites because they can be downloaded and used offline but still can be updated with new information. They can also provide far more functionality on smart phones than compared to a mobile web site.
- Mobile Integration: Exchange websites should be designed to interact with mobile phones and allow customers to browse plans, upload documents, and access customer support. Adding text or smart phone alerts and notifications about enrollment status would provide faster information and improved communication lines.
Taking these steps will help facilitate young adult enrollment in new exchanges.
Young Invincibles also released another report this month on the important state role in implementing the ACA in a way that works well for young adults.