Letters to the Editor

Tech firms bringing ACA help to consumers

Sometimes the very consumers who need healthcare the most are the least likely to enroll. This has been one of the challenges faced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the federal agency responsible for administering the Affordable Care Act.

To meet this challenge, the agency is looking to Silicon Valley for help. Last week, HHS announced an innovative collaboration effort with tech firms PayNearMe, Monster.com and Peers.org, to bring important open-enrollment information to low-income and other traditionally hard-to-reach communities.

Monster.com, for example, is already the country’s largest online platform for job seekers, counting more than 200 million registered users. The job site reaches a vast amount of unemployed and under-employed Americans — precisely the audience that is likely to be uninsured. Through partnership with HHS, Monster.com will provide tips and advice on open enrollment through the company’s blog.

Similarly, Peers.org has agreed to post information about HealthCare.gov on its website, and will host a live video chat with HHS officials to answer questions from the Peers community.

Perhaps the most interesting partnership involves the electronic cash-transaction company PayNearMe. PayNearMe’s customer base is made up of individuals who operate in the cash economy. This includes low-income consumers and those who have limited or no access to a bank account. Almost half of this segment are people of color.

The company allows the cash-preferring people to pay their monthly bills such as rent, electricity and water in cash at their local 7-Eleven and Family Dollar stores without the high fees that generally accompany prepaid debit cards and money orders, and with the convenience of same-day payment.

Up until Feb. 15, the 2015 open enrollment deadline, all PayNearMe receipts printed at 7-Eleven stores nationwide will include information about upcoming enrollment deadlines and encouragement to explore tax benefits and new plans at HealthCare.gov.

PayNearMe receipt reminders serve as an innovative way to literally place coverage information into the hands of traditionally hard-to-reach consumers because the receipts serve as proof of payment of important expenditures and are, therefore, carefully scrutinized and held onto by the customers.

As HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell put it, “These innovative companies help us to reach our consumers where they are with the information they need to sign up and re-enroll in quality, affordable care through the Health Insurance Marketplace.” It’s a great idea.

The government sector sometimes gets a bad reputation for lacking imagination and innovation. It’s refreshing to see HHS step outside of Washington, D.C., to take advantage of the tech community to extend its reach and better communicate with its underserved constituents.

Benjamin Todd Jealous, partner, Kapor Capital, Oakland, Calif.