Health & Medicine

Kynect app designed to reach 'invincible' young without health insurance

Kentucky officials said they hope that a new smartphone app will help attract more young people to Kynect.
Kentucky officials said they hope that a new smartphone app will help attract more young people to Kynect. Herald-Leader

Want to learn about options for health insurance through the state's program, Kynect? There's an app for that.

State health officials are hoping that the app, available via a free download, will attract the demographic of young, health people the state has dubbed as the "invincibles."

Those folks are crucial for the long-term financial stability of the state's effort to enroll people under the Affordable Care Act.

With very limited exceptions, the ACA requires every American to obtain health insurance or face a financial penalty. Of the 521,000 Kentuckians who have so far signed up for health insurance, about 80,000 people have bought private insurance, according to statistics from the state.

The other 440,000 have qualified for Medicaid, a taxpayer-financed health insurance program based on family income.

The exact number of private-pay customers needed to make the overall math work has not yet been announced by the state. The state has previously said that before the ACA, 640,000 Kentuckians were without health insurance.

Invincibles are, roughly, those aged 18 to 34, said Gwenda Bond, spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. As a group, they are generally healthy and think they can get by without health insurance, thus, they're "invincible."

Gov. Steve Beshear referred to the group in a speech at the opening of a Kynect (pronounced 'connect') retail store Thursday at Fayette Mall. He made a point of saying a single catastrophic health problem could lead to financial ruin. At that event, the state handed out water bottles with the slogan: "If you think you can't afford health insurance, think again."

Open enrollment begins Saturday and ends Feb. 15, 2015.

The development of the app was included in the original contract with Deloitte to provide technical support and expertise. (The contract is for as much as $100 million, Bond said, but it might not reach that cap.)

The marketing, outreach and education effort in support of the app and Kynect is financed by $6.9 million in federal money for 2014, Bond said. Last year ,the state received $4.3 million for outreach and education. That's a total of $11.2 million.

A key target for some of that outreach is younger people who use phones or other mobile devices as their primary means of accessing the Internet, Bond said. Although it's possible to apply for health insurance using old-fashioned paper and pen, the vast majority of people who have signed up so far have gone through the website,

A trip to the website is required to complete a health care application, but the app allows people to review their options and rates.

"The goal with this app is to really put people in touch with help as quickly as possible," said Nicole Comeaux, deputy executive of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange. The exchange runs the Kynect website and created the mobile app.

Chris Clark, program manager for the Health Benefits Exchange, said Kentucky joins a handful of other states that have created a mobile app.

"We did not simply make a copy of the website and put it on an iPhone," said Clark. "We completely reimagined how Kynect needed to operate on these devices."

The state's website has been lauded for not falling prey to the technical glitches that plagued the launch of the federal government's website, HealthCare.Gov. One of the reasons Kentucky avoided that problem, state officials said, is because of extensive testing of the site before it was made available to the public. The same sort of testing has been done for the mobile app.

State employees have been using the app for several months to work out the bugs, Clark said. Those who use the app are encouraged to offer feedback, and there are efforts to expand the app's technology, he said.

Officials hope that before the end of the year, the app will have a feature that will allow people to take pictures of needed documentation for the health insurance with a phone camera and submit them digitally. It is much the same process as apps used by banks for remote check deposits.