Technology Tuesdays: A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

By Jennifer Sullivan

This blog entry is part of Enroll America’s Technology Tuesdays blog series.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always open to trying new technology that might make my life a little bit easier. Over the last few years, with the help of technology, I’ve moved to paying almost all my bills online, getting farmer’s market produce delivered directly to my home, using my smart phone as my boarding pass for flights, and video-chatting with my in-laws using an electronic tablet—all without putting a single piece of paper in the mail or calling someone on the phone. These services are intuitive and easy to set up, and they help me minimize little hassles like finding a stamp or remembering to call during business hours.

The latest improvement that I’ve encountered was when I went online to purchase contact lenses recently, and I learned that I no longer have to mail my prescription to my contact lens retailer, nor do I have to wait a few days for them to contact my eye doctor to confirm my prescription. All I had to do was take a digital photo of my prescription, email it to the store, and voila—my contacts were in the mail to me that very same day.

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This got me thinking—wouldn’t it be great if this kind of simplification were widely available for people applying for health coverage? That is, in cases when a state decides it needs to collect documentation from an individual in order to determine which health coverage program the person is eligible for,* the applicant (or the person helping them) could submit a digital photo of the documentation by text or email. This would be easier and faster than faxing it or mailing a copy of it, and it could speed up the process to help the person get an eligibility determination and enroll in coverage more quickly. And, emailing or texting documentation means that applicants also have a record of the time and date they sent their information, in case they need it.

Although not everyone has a phone that can take and send photos, recent estimates suggest that 83 percent of Americans own a cell phone, and a large proportion of them can take and send photos with their phone (80 percent of smart phone users and over a third of all other cell phone users). These numbers are likely to grow as we approach 2013, and eligibility workers and application assisters may be able to put this technology to use for those who don’t have access to their own camera phone.

So, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a digital picture might just be worth a whole lot of paper, hassle, and time.

*But remember, states don’t have to require documentation to prove eligibility. For eligibility factors other than citizenship/immigration status, states have the option to accept applicants’ attestation instead of requiring documentation.

Feedback Encouraged: This blog series is intended to encourage discussion and brainstorming. Do you think a certain strategy or technology would work particularly well in simplifying enrollment in health coverage? What are the pitfalls or hurdles to overcome? What has your organization or state already tried, and how well did it work? We welcome your ideas via email, and we hope to highlight some of the feedback we receive in future blogs. 


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