WASHINGTON – A massive technical triage effort might help to improve the new online shopping tool for Obamacare plans. The question is whether the glitch-ridden site might have already turned off a generation of tech-savvy adults, viewed as the most crucial and hardest group to enroll.
They are the one demographic the government needs more than any other to make the controversial health care law work. They are the young and healthy – those least likely to believe they need health insurance.
They also are the consumers for whom digital is a way of life. They document and post their daily lives in 140 characters and use mobile devices as the key source to locate anything they want to know.
So when healthcare.gov sends them to the equivalent of a digital waiting room – where they spin their wheels up an hour just to apply for an account – does that tell them health care is one more product they don’t need?
The answer, essentially, is: It depends, said Jeff Fromm, author of “Marketing to Milliennials.”
It’s true, young adults have less tolerance for technology that doesn’t work. But for some, the product will be important enough to overcome initial glitches – as long as they are solved in the long run, he said.
“Millennials think ‘useful’ is sort of the new cool. If the site is useful, then millennials will share it with their friends,” Fromm said.
That’s a part of their focus on peer affirmation, he said. It’s a sort of a heavy emphasis on word-of-mouth advertising.
But there’s a downside to all that sharing:
“If this technology is not useful, it’s not going to be very cool,” he said.
One key to making it useful is convincing young Americans that they need health insurance.
That’s where the Young Invincibles come in.
The group is working to educate Americans between the ages of 26 and 34 about the health care law and government help to buy a plan. Young adults, particularly those with low salaries or those stringing together part-time jobs, are expected to qualify for heavily subsidized insurance plans.
The subsidies were designed, in part, with this group in mind. They are imperative to what the insurance industry calls a balanced risk pool.
Young Invincibles has a mobile app that helps locate doctors and answer questions about the new law. It’s also running a “Getting Covered” campaign that explains the financial benefits of having health insurance.
The organizers recognize there have been problems with healthcare.gov, but said they are in for the “long haul” when it comes to educating young Americans and helping them enroll.
“It is important to remember that health care is not a fad,” said Aaron Smith, 31, co-founder and executive director of Young Invincibles. “This is not people waiting in line to buy a new pair of jeans at the Gap. Delays might happen, but young people know that buying health insurance is a serious decision.”
Massachusetts residents visited their state site, which was a model for the federal program, an average of 18 times before buying coverage, Smith said.
Obama administration officials are counting on the long-term nature of a program like health care reform to change the narrative.
For now, the focus seems to be on the problems. But they hope people will continue to return to the site after the bugs are fixed.
In a sense, young adults are primed to give healthcare.gov a shot.
“They are two and half times more likely to be early adopters of new tools and new technology than other generations,” Fromm said.
But they also expect a certain technological reliability.
A study by Compuware found that 79 percent of users report that they would retry an app only once or twice if it failed to work the first time. The number willing to give it more than two tries was 16 percent.