Could mobile tech be the saving grace for the Affordable Care Act?

The federal government is officially shut down, thanks to partisan politics and gridlock in Washington. Nevertheless, open enrollment begins today for health insurance exchanges--online marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act--allowing individuals, families and small businesses to shop for insurance coverage. Our dysfunctional political system notwithstanding, this is good news for the 49 million people in this country who are uninsured and can now find out what health coverage options are available to them.

If you're confused about the provisions of the Affordable Care Act and what it means for you, you're not alone. Despite the Obama administration's efforts to educate the public, only 15 percent of Americans said they are very familiar with the healthcare reform law, according to a Gallup poll released in August. In particular, younger U.S. adults are less familiar with the Affordable Care Act compared with older adults, but they are also less pessimistic about the law than older people--which could mean the difference between success and failure. 

The key to the success of the Affordable Care Act is getting young people to sign up for health insurance using the exchanges. By the end of March 2014, when open enrollment ends, the Obama administration wants to have more than 2.5 million young, healthy people signed up for coverage to offset the costs of caring for the old and sick. Still, only one in four young American adults are aware of the online health insurance marketplaces that are now open. Young adults, who make up almost a third of all uninsured Americans, see themselves as invulnerable yet in many ways they stand the most to gain from the law. 

Under the Affordable Care Act, some young adults can stay on their parents' health insurance policies until they turn 26. But an estimated 16 million to 19 million others are still uninsured. To attract them, insurance companies are hoping to bring in young adults by offering mobile-friendly ways to make healthcare decisions, according to a U.S. News & World Report article published Monday. The article, which cites a new survey released by PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute (HRI), finds that the "new health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act are "already giving insurers and tech companies alike an opportunity for innovation."

The HRI survey found that "capturing the young invincibles--through targeted messaging and products--will help insurers balance financial risk." As a result, HRI recommended that health insurance companies should "build out data analytics and mobile strategies for targeting" young adults and that "mobile apps will help customers gain access to important medical and cost information." In addition, almost 90 percent of young adults surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 indicated that they would use social media tools for "health-related activities." Consequently, wireless technology could be the saving grace for the Affordable Care Act in getting young Americans to sign up for health insurance. - Greg (@Slabodkin)