Smartphone Technology: The Key to Enrolling Young Adults in Health Coverage?

By Arie Stock

Last week, one of my friends embarked on a road trip from Maryland to California for graduate school. Ever since we were freshmen at the University of Maryland, we never missed a Terps football game. So last Saturday, as my friend was traversing through the deep valleys and cornfield-lined country roads of the Midwest, I couldn’t help but wonder whether he would find a place to watch the Maryland-West Virginia game. Through all the excitement that is typical of great rivalries, I nostalgically reached for my phone and sent my friend a text message that read, “You should be watching this.” No more than 60 seconds later, I received a text back: “I am.” My friend was using the WatchESPN app to watch the game on his phone and to root for his beloved Terps from 1,000 miles away. The single thing that connected him to one of the most profound symbols of home is a portable piece of technology that can fit in his back pocket. More and more, young adults are relying on smartphone technology to shop, read the news, play games, and follow our favorite sports teams. And in 2014, we may rely on smartphones to learn about or even purchase health insurance. Health care stakeholders across the nation are struggling with the daunting question of how to enroll young adults in health coverage. A recent one-pager from Young Invincibles  (a member of Enroll America’s Advisory Council) and the Greenlining Institute highlights the importance of smartphone technology as an enrollment tool for young adults. The study finds that 42 percent of young adults aged 18 to 29 primarily access the internet through their phones, and nearly 20 percent of young adults only receive wireless internet access through their phones. Given that uninsured rates among young adults are particularly high, especially among black and Hispanic young adults, at 34 percent and 53.6 percent respectively, smartphone technology offers policy makers and health care stakeholders new capabilities for reaching a demographic that might not always think about health insurance, and all too often considers themselves invincible. So what does this mean where the rubber meets the road? State health insurance exchange websites should be “smartphone-friendly” (which may mean developing different apps for different platforms, e.g., Android, Blackberry, and iPhone). And texting campaigns, which are now commonplace in marketing, should be used to get the word out about all the available coverage options in 2014. So, as we in the health care world start to consider how to enroll people in coverage in 2014, let’s try to make enrolling in health coverage accessible and easy for America’s ”young invincibles”—whether they are hanging out with friends, taking a late-night study break at the College Perk, or even traveling across the country.

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