Website stumbles on launch

Freddie Allen | 10/30/2013, 4:48 p.m.
Last week, President Barack Obama said what many people who visited healthcare.gov to browse and buy affordable health insurance already ...
Screenshot of HealthCare.gov, Oct. 29. Photo by Robyn H. Jimenez

Even as the Obama administration scrambles to fix problems associated with healthcare.gov, Gunn acknowledged that many people, especially in the Black community, remain skittish about disclosing personal information on the Internet.

“Not everybody wants to do business online,” said Gunn, an African American. “They don’t bank online, they don’t shop online. There are lots of people in our community like that.”

Ridgnal cautioned against an overreliance on technology.

“Nothing can replace good old-fashioned organizing, good old-fashioned door-to-door contact, face-to-face contact, the church being a major vehicle for communication,” he said. “There are so many folks within our community on the older side who don’t have access to technology and would never be comfortable registering via a website.”

That’s why the Obama administration funded navigators to help guide people through the process, including community health centers, and certified application counselors in every state.

Ridgnal said that Enroll America focused on having real people reach folks where they are and also used new and innovative strategies to reach people via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and text messages.

“Reaching young African Americans and young people of color in general is extremely critical for us,” Ridgnal said. “We are creating a pooled marketplace that will hopefully make prices more affordable for everyone, which means we need a diverse pool of consumers participating so that everyone can benefit from quality and affordable health insurance options.”

In an effort to raise awareness about the healthcare exchanges, Enroll America officials said that the nonprofit aired television ads during the first week that the marketplaces opened on BET and OWN in Dallas and Orlando and OWN and TV ONE in Houston and Miami. They did not advertise in Black newspapers or magazines.

As part of their outreach and education effort around the launch of the Health Insurance Marketplace HHS, a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that they plan to use targeted television and radio advertising, as well as social media to inform Americans about the opportunities to sign up for health insurance.

The strategy includes high-profile spots on the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and Major League Baseball as well as Radio One and BET.com.

But Black print publications, which reach millions of African Americans, are not included in that advertising.

A spokesperson for CMS said that paid print advertising is not part of the media strategy at this time, because research shows that media consumption among young adults focuses on digital, television and radio.

But Black publishers say their products reach all age groups in the Black community, including younger Blacks attracted to their digital platforms. They said failure to advertise in Black newspapers and magazines is a lost opportunity to reach all segments of the Black community.

The strategy leaves many to wonder how effective the strategy will be in reaching poor Blacks with little to no access to the Internet, especially in states that didn’t expand coverage for Medicaid or set up their own state health insurance exchanges.

On the technical side, the administration recently announced plans of a tech surge to address the ongoing problems that users have faced at healthcare.gov. During a teleconference with members of the press, Jeffrey Zients, the management consultant, pledged that services would be greatly improved by the end of November.

As IT experts work around the clock to fix healthcare.gov, the Obama administration has also increased staff support at call centers to field questions and concerns people have about the health care exchanges.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, said that the call center has received more than 1.6 million calls, and average wait times for calls was less than 30 seconds, and 3 minutes for chats.

“The call center is an important way for you to connect with someone,” Gunn said. “Just like you would save your brother’s cell phone number into your phone or save your doctor’s number into your phone you should save 1-800-318-2596 into your phone. Share it with everybody that you know who is uninsured and if you have a question, whether it’s three o’clock in the afternoon or three o’clock in the morning, you can call that number and somebody will pick that line up to help you enroll in coverage.”

People who want to apply for health insurance coverage can find instructions here:


Individuals and families can download and print an application for health insurance coverage here and mail it in: