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The importance of the human touch in ACA enrollment can't be overstated.

Regular followers of this site know that I'm primarily a bean counter, concerned mainly with tracking the numbers and plugging them into spreadsheets and graphs.

However, there's another side to the ACA story which is extremely important, and which I tend not to give enough attention to, and that's the human factor.

Sources like Amy Lynn Smith and ACASuccessStories have been doing their best to put a human face on what the Affordable Care Act means for real people with real healthcare needs, and I've mentioned or given a shout-out to these and other "tell your story" writers from time to time. However, it was 3 completely unrelated incidents which inspired me to write this entry.

The first is one which I've mentioned before, and which received a lot of buzz last week: Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor's re-election campaign ad which took on the anti-ACA forces by simply telling his story about how important it is to have decent healthcare coverage (which also won't bankrupt you) when cancer strikes home. No, he didn't mention the law by name (neither the "O" word nor even "the Affordable Care Act" were uttered), but the point was made.

The second one is an article from an extremely unlikely source: The Motley Fool, the popular stock investment website, ran a comprensive overview of of how the ACA is working in California (obviously they threw in a stock pick for WellPoint while they were at it), including both the successes and the challenges which they've faced and which lie ahead. To me, the most noteworthy part comes towards the end:

The initial takeaway here, based on California's grassroots approach, is that technology may not be the answer for a majority of the uninsured. Although young adults who feel they're healthy enough not to need health insurance would likely respond better to social media-based advertising, the majority of California's uninsured, and perhaps the case with a number of other states in the country, would do best with making the enrollment process more personal.

This is precisely what we saw when we looked at the J.D. Power Health Insurance Marketplace Shopper Survey, released last month. We often think of technology making our lives easier, but respondents in J.D. Power's study showed a clear favoritism toward enrolling in person, with a score of 719 on a scale of 1 to 1,000, compared to enrolling online, which came in with a score of just 597. It's possible the early glitches in the federally run Healthcare.gov or a few select state-run exchanges contributed to this 122-point gap, but it's also quite possible that people prefer human-to-human interaction when making potentially critical decisions like choosing a healthcare provider. 

This brings me to the third incident, which happened just 2 days ago. As I noted at the time, someone I used to know back in high school 25 years ago and with whom I haven't had contact with since (we friended each other on Facebook but I don't think we've ever actually chatted) contacted me out of the blue to ask for my assistance in enrolling. This person recently changed jobs and no longer has employer-provided coverage, and didn't know whether they could enroll during the off season or what the process was.

I had to ask a few rather nosey questions (income, how many dependents, address, etc), plugged their info into Healthcare.Gov, (which is operating quite smoothly these days, by the way, and has been for months) and voila, there was the list of different policies all sorted out by metal level, HMO/PPO and sorted from lowest to highest premium...including the tax subsidy which cut thier rates down to as low as $21/month, depending on which plan they use.

Here's the thing, though: All this person had to do was exactly what I did: Visit Healthcare.Gov, answer about 10 simple questions and they'd be all set. My high school friend is an intelligent, capable person, so why did they need me to do this for them?

Answer: They didn't...but when you lose your healthcare coverage and you're not used to the process over replacing it, it's much more reassuring to talk to someone you feel you can trust to guide you through the process.

Whether it's insurance agents doing it for profit, a "navigator" paid by the government to walk you through it, or just a trusted family member or friend, the human contact factor is important when it comes to anything dealing with your health or medical treatment.