The 15 percent of Washington households that lack Internet access might be missing out on trivial matters such as videos of the latest celebrity gaff or Facebook updates from nearly forgotten high school friends. But come next month, these residents are also going to have a harder time signing up for health insurance available as a result of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
In Washington state, new insurance plans for residents who are uninsured or who don’t get health insurance through work will only be available through an online portal called the Washington Healthplanfinder.
While much of the state struggles to remember which of their passwords goes with which email address, others don’t have a single email account — a requirement of enrolling in the insurance exchange.
“First we need a list of free emails,” said Carol Allen, a community health educator with King County, during a recent Healthplanfinder training session in Seattle. Luckily, free email is readily available through Google, Yahoo and others.
But you still need to get these folks aboard the Internet (And, of course, if you are reading this blog, you are.)
A report called “Exploring the Digital Nation” released this summer by the U.S. Commerce Department found that:
“Compared to the national adoption rate, white and Asian American households, and high-income and highly educated households, had higher computer ownership and broadband adoption rates in both urban and rural areas. Rural African American and Hispanic households with low incomes reported the lowest computer and broadband adoption rates.”
And as Seattle Times health reporter Carol Ostrom recently blogged, Washington ranks high nationally for the percentage of under-age-65 Hispanics without insurance, and the percentage of people under age 65 living at or below the poverty level without insurance — just the people who have a harder time getting online.
What to do? It seems reasonable to send folks online to register for health insurance, particularly given that they need to be able to compare more than 40 plans to figure out which one they want, and they need to do things like enter income information to calculate what their insurance would cost or if they qualify for Medicaid or tax credits.
So local governments are partnering with community groups, health clinics, libraries and other services to provide in-person help for people who might struggle to navigate this system (see this story I recently wrote about the issue). In King County, 23 community groups will help educate and recruit uninsured residents. One partner is Sea Mar Community Health Centers, which has about 60 health facilities across the Puget Sound region.
To bridge the digital divide, Rudy Vasquez, director of Sea Mar’s managed-care operations, said they’ll be installing computer kiosks at many of their health clinics so patients can research and enroll in health insurance plans onsite.
“It’s trying to create a smooth pathway for them to access assistance,” Vasquez said.