Confused about Obamacare? There’s an app for that

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

While politicians continue to argue over the fate of Obamacare, consumers are deeply confused about what reform may mean to them and how they can find help.

A new tool aimed at delivering answers debuted in Colorado this week: the Blue Guide from the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.

Its mobile. It offers statewide information. And if you tell the website or app where you are, it will use geolocation to instantly show you nearby clinics, mental health centers or assistance sites where you can sign up for health insurance once Colorados new health exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, launches on Oct. 1.

Consumers can event hunt for very specific services like clinics that cater to American Indians, LGBT patients, veterans or migrant workers. Some clinics indicate whether they take walk-in patients.

There are websites that are designed to help you find one component of health care and HCPF (Colorados Medicaid system) has a map of enrollment sites. But to my knowledge, this is the only tool in Colorado that consolidates all of that, said Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative (CCHI) a consumer advocacy group.

CCHI has put out a Blue Guide in the past to help uninsured people find health care options. But this is the first time the consumer group has created robust web and mobile versions. Studies show that low-income people are especially reliant on information from mobile phones since many lack high-speed Internet connections. So the mobile app may be especially useful to people who may qualify either for public health insurance through Medicaid or tax subsidies from the federal government aimed at making private health insurance more affordable.

With all the changes that are coming in our health system, we wanted to make this as consumer-friendly as possible, Fox said.

The Android app is available now and the iPhone app is coming soon.

The goal is to help Coloradans find health care services within their communities, Fox said.

Consumers can even hunt for providers who speak an array of languages from Spanish to Vietnamese and Arabic. They can search by the types of care offered: from care for the disabled to respite care to substance abuse treatment to HIV testing or immunizations.

What Im particularly excited about is being able to identify mental health services, Fox said. Mental health care is now included as a basic benefit (through health insurance coverage).Were expecting that the level of coverage will be pretty robust and consumers will be able to access those (mental health) sites.

CCHI represents more than 50 member organizations and 500,000 health care consumers. The plan now is to put both the digital and print versions of the Blue Guide into the hands of as many people and organizations as possible around the state who are working on the ground to implement health reform.

I think it can just help give a little bit of peace of mind when people are trying to enter this new system, Fox said. It can give them pretty thorough information on where they should go to find the services they need and can reduce a lot of barriers to getting coverage and care.

About 800,000 Coloradans are now uninsured. Advocates for the uninsured hope that as many as 500,000 will eventually get insurance through the exchange, although the initial target is about 120,000 in the first six months.