A few bugs in the Obamacare website is not the real story here. It’s the fact that, according to Pew Internet, 48 million Americans don’t use the internet at all and millions more can’t do online transactions. Tinder Foundation is a UK non-profit with a proven solution to help millions to get online and use Government services. A year ago I would have said that our success wasn’t relevant to this story unfolding over the pond but now I know that it is – the stats tells the story. In the US and the UK the people who are offline are basically the same demographic and have the same barriers: 50/50 of offliners are over/under 65 years of age; around 40% live in households on very low incomes; and about 50% have a low educational attainment (no high school diploma in the US and don’t have 5 GCSEs in the UK). Lack of perceived relevance and not having the skills to use the internet are the two main barriers. If the problems are the same then the solution could be too.
The correlation between those who are the ‘digital poor’ – who don’t and can’t use the web – and poor health is huge. Just looking at life expectancy is a clear indicator: in London the average age at death ranges from 71 in Tottenham Green to 88 in Queen’s Gate and in Washington DC life expectancy for the poor is 71 years and for the education professional it’s 83 years.
The cost of healthcare is not something we have to worry about in the UK, we’re lucky to have the NHS so much so we often take it for granted. If you fall ill in the US it’s down to you to foot the bill – unless you have health care insurance. It is estimated that between 32-50 million Americans don’t have any cover and with the average visit to the emergency room costing £780/$1,265 it can be expensive. Unsurprisingly the number one reason for bankruptcy in the US is health care costs. So Obamacare is there to help people who are cash poor, and who will in all likelihood suffer health inequality, and will also suffer digital exclusion.
Tinder Foundation is lucky to be working with NHS England to tackle the ‘digital poor’ so that they can benefit in the drive for better health information, health prevention, and more conversations about health – all to be online. Our work with our 5000 hyperlocal partners in the UK online centres network will increase the web literacy for those digital poor so that both have the skills to use it and know that it can improve their and their families’ health. Tie that together with essential tools such as the free Learn My Way online courses helps people to learn as well as local partners to track that learning using the data analytics. I think this is a model that could help Americans to not just register for Obamacare but also to access online information to keep them healthy too.
We’ve helped over 1 million people at a unit cost of £30/$50, and I know our model could work for much higher numbers of people where there is a collective will to make it happen. This kind of effort, at the kind of scale that’s needed, takes time, fantastic partnership building on the ground, and persuasive and focused leadership.
It’s easy to see that the introduction of Obamacare should benefit millions of people. Stop talking about the bugs. Bugs in a website are a temporary problem and I’m sure there are hundreds of programmers busily fixing it right now. It’s the 48 million Americans who don’t use the web that is a more difficult problem to fix.