Text messages can help you find in-person enrollment help

An innovative new texting program is making it a little easier to find in-person help with the Washington Healthplanfinder website.

It takes time — and some comfort with online shopping — to navigate the Healthplanfinder website, where residents can compare plans and enroll. For people who’ve had trouble with the website, or are unable to get online, King County has trained more than 600 in-person assisters, real people who can help folks make tough decisions about insurance.

Some King County residents are already receiving texts about health enrollment help in their area. Text King plus your zip code to 468311.

Some King County residents are already receiving texts about health enrollment help in their area. Text King plus your zip code to 468311.

Now, King County residents can use text messages to meet up with one of those in-person assisters.

People can text “KING” plus their zip code to 468311 and get information about opportunities for help in their area. For instance, this weekend, the Healthplanfinder Mobile Enrollment Tour is visiting Kent (Saturday, 2-5 pm). If someone in Kent can’t make it during those hours, they might text “KING 98032″ to 468311. This person will get additional upcoming times and locations where they can find assistance in Kent – all sent directly to their phones.

Someone who lives in Capitol Hill might text “KING 98122″ and receive times and locations for Central Seattle.

A similar idea proved valuable to connect people with a nearby flu-shot during the 2009 pandemic flu scare in California.

Subscribers get a text message each time there’s a nearby enrollment opportunity — so a secondary benefit is getting that occasional reminder to sign-up for insurance.

The program isn’t just about convenience either – it’s about equity. Young, low-income people of color use text messaging more than any other demographic. These people are also a lot more likely to be uninsured, and they’re the people the Affordable Care Act can help the most. Where the Internet and traditional media fall short, text messaging fills in the blanks.

The program is currently offered in English, but a Spanish version will be available by the end of the year.

Other health jurisdictions, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are offering text message programs, but none this robust.

“This program, like any good text message program, is designed to provide customized, valuable information that will encourage people to take action,” said Public Health – Seattle & King County Public Information Officer Hilary Karasz, who has spent several years studying text messages as a tool for public health practice.

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