To counter reports that consumers struggled to enroll online early in October, a Covered California Facebook update from Oct. 17 suggests signing up by phone as an alternative, noting that the process would take less than an hour. The Facebook page boasts nearly 100,000 “likes.”
“We're educating people online, we get comments from the public every single day, and we'll respond to a specific topic that consumers might suggest,” said Roy Kennedy, a spokesman for Covered California. “The goal is to educate each person that comes on and make them feel comfortable that they've received answers.” Nearly 18% of the state's non-elderly population is uninsured, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data.
Social media also enable virtual town-hall style meetings, popular forums for Covered California and other organizations across the country seeking to educate consumers about signing up for insurance through the state and federal insurance exchanges. They provide an easy way for organizers to quickly blast out information about costs, eligibility and other information required to sign up. They also can address qualifications for premium subsidies. Social media increasingly have become a vital component for exchanges and other enrollment-oriented groups to target younger consumers. Signing up a large share of younger and healthier people is considered crucial in holding down premiums for exchange health plans.
Even more established healthcare organizations such as the Kaiser Family Foundation are using social media to get the word out about the healthcare reform law. The foundation drew readers to link to a Q&A section on its website via this tweet: “Can I buy insurance in the marketplace without a green card? Find this & other FAQs on the ACA here.”
For exchanges and other groups trying to sign people up for ACA coverage, social media have the advantage of being accessible to lower-income people who may lack a personal computer at home but often have Internet-enabled smartphones. But they are still no substitute for old-fashioned, face-to-face contact in encouraging people to disclose personal information and pay a premium to get health insurance they may not feel they need—especially Latinos and other minorities who may not trust impersonal online appeals, officials say.
“In terms of the connection, when you're talking to someone in person, on their couch, about their struggles to get access to healthcare, nothing comes close to that,” said Tiffany Hogue, statewide healthcare campaign coordinator for the Texas Organizing Project, a not-for-profit group that seeks to increase healthcare access in Texas, where nearly 25% of the under-65 adult population is uninsured, the highest percentage in the nation according to Census data.