Gig economy companies like Uber are helping the Feds spread the word about Obamacare


The move comes ahead of the new open enrollment season, which begins Nov. 1.

Once again, the government is looking for Silicon Valley’s help with Obamacare.

Unlike with the initial healthcare.gov problems, though, this time the feds aren’t looking for technology assistance.

Rather, the government is tapping the area’s gig economy companies to help spread the word to contractors about the availability of health care, as well as the Nov. 1 start to open enrollment.

Keeping a lid on costs is key to making the system work, and the government is looking at signing these companies’ comparatively young and healthy base of contractors as one way to contain rising health-care costs.

The federal government will announce later Tuesday that it is working with a host of such companies, including Uber, Left, DoorDash, Care.com, Fiverr, Handy and TaskRabbit.

“Doing this, and doing this around open enrollment as we start into that, we think, is an important part of our effort to reach consumers where they are,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell told Recode. “It has to do with the people that are still out there.”

There are a lot of young, relatively healthy people out there whose participation could help improve the finances of Obamacare. Of the 10.7 million people who are not yet in the system but are eligible to take part, Burwell said that 40 percent of them are between 18 and 34.

And the government could use some help with open enrollment this year, as it faces some significant headwinds.

The Obama administration issued its official expectations on costs Monday, saying premiums could rise an average of 22 percent. Burwell said she remains confident that most people in the government health-care marketplace will have affordable options.

“Most people will still be able to find a plan for $75 or less a month in premiums,” Burwell said.

Meanwhile, although some workers receive tax subsidies to cover their health-care costs, others will bear the full brunt of the increase. In addition, waning interest from insurers also means that there could be fewer choices for people in many states.

“We are seeing some reduced competition,” Burwell acknowledged. She added that 30 percent of people with employer-paid health care last year had just one option in terms of plans. “We want to encourage more competition. We are taking steps internally to do that.”

Burwell’s agency has set a goal of 13.8 million enrollments for 2017 — the fourth year of the health-care exchanges — which would represent an increase of about one million workers over last year.

One challenge is that contractors for the Ubers and Lyfts of the world have already been big customers for Obamacare. Indeed, Uber and Lyft also notified workers about open enrollment last year, and many gig economy employers already work with companies like Stride Health, which helps connect self-employed workers with health care and other benefits.

The existence of the Affordable Care Act, meanwhile, has helped increase the pool of workers willing to do gig economy work.

“It’s huge,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said back in 2014. “The democratization of those types of benefits allow people to have more flexible ways to make a living.”

Burwell said the agency is also hoping to pull in younger participants by advertising on video-game-viewing service Twitch, as well as through outreach campaigns on Instagram and YouTube.

“It’s the combination of things we think will get us to the 13.8 million,” she said.

DoorDash, for its part, says it is happy to spread the word about Obamacare, but isn’t looking to start subsidizing health care or offering plans to contractors.

“We know flexibility is the No. 1 thing Dashers value,” said Andrew Ladd, DoorDash’s director of product operations. Some people want to work just a few hours a month, while others want to work far more frequently. “For us, it seems like the Affordable Care Act is trying to support that effort … Health insurance was a major reason why folks stayed with a job.”

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