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Aneesh Chopra: Startup Government

Beneath the noise of the Obamacare rollout, a quiet revolution was taking place in how government delivers digital services.

Over the past year, Uncle Sam sought to scale up the approach to providing digital government services that was utilized during the recovery of healthcare.gov – one that focuses on the customer, uses agile practices and empowers one leader to deliver results (among other “plays”). It has done so through a recruiting binge that has attracted some of the brightest engineers from companies like Amazon, Twitter, Google and Facebook to the government.

But President Obama’s “Stealth Startup” won’t stop at merely improving the government’s capacity to create websites, as much as that is a necessary endeavor. Rather, its full impact will be felt through opening those digital services to developers as a wholesaler, whether to ease tax filing or sign up for healthcare.gov. While the consumer experience on the official government healthcare site has already dramatically improved, it was purposefully given competition with the aim of making it even easier for consumers to address their top concern — finding a plan that is right for them. That is thanks to some of the more than 70 “web broker entities” that are now certified to help streamline the process.

Take, for example, the transportation service Uber. In 2014, 60 percent of surveyed Uber drivers said they wanted tools to, “simplify the selection of health insurance.” Rather than simply direct their drivers to the now-functioning healthcare.gov, Uber went further —partnering with Stride Health to offer personalized cost estimates based not just on driver information, but also on open government data, such as plan information from healthcare.gov, Census and other data from the Commerce Department, as well as population cost benchmarks from Health & Human Services Department. Stride’s innovation was to demystify the process by stripping away the complex industry jargon and factors related to copays, deductibles and premiums — and instead presenting just a single cost estimate.

Over time, these services will grant consumers access to product recommendations, which the government isn’t generally in the business of providing. An exploration of the Medicare Part D drug plan shopping portal illustrates the challenge. The government site provides an exhaustive list of options, relying on the shopper to pick the plan, perhaps based on the drugs they already take or might take based on their chronic condition. A recommendation would be a valuable addition, because busy consumers don’t always have the time, inclination or aptitude to fully vet options and determine which is best for them. This is evidenced, in part, by Medicare beneficiaries leaving an average of $500 on the table when selecting prescription drug plans.

The key will be to motivate startups to create recommendations engines or other services that energize and simplify the selection process. To that end, healthcare.gov has enabled developers to earn broker commissions, when operating with a broker license, from the insurance companies for selling plans.

Developers will also benefit from an expansion in the amount of available, useful data. Next year, insurance companies will be directed to open up their provider directories and drug formularies in a format that a recommendations app and others can use. That should compel new features that make it easier for consumers to keep their preferred doctors.

As I argue in “Innovative State,” we are in the midst of a new paradigm in the public sector — one that is both pro-growth and pro-government. It is initiated by a series of handshakes between opposing political entities regarding the rules of the road, and then propelled through handoffs to a growing movement of entrepreneurs and innovators who build new products and services. The manifestation of this vision is the public/private marketplace, optimizing three policy levers:

  1. Technical Standards: That consumers can safely and securely enlist third-party apps to perform digital services via open APIs;
  2. Consumer Protection/Regulatory: That such apps adhere to voluntary enforceable codes of conduct, including basic consumer protections on privacy and fiduciary advice;
  3. Policy/Business Model: That such apps share in the savings they help generate due to better outcomes — from reduced time on unemployment rolls, to increased retirement security, to lower student loan debt rates, and so on.

An Innovative State will make it less necessary to trek to a government office, or even to visit a traditional .gov site. It will allow citizens to more frequently look toward the private or social sectors, and the options they can offer. In other words, government services will come to us, in context, rather than the other way around.

Imagine a veteran planning for her next career on a talent platform that is connected to her post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to recommend the highest quality approved training program that builds on her skills to qualify for the job that is right for her.

Imagine a Gen-Xer couple jump-starting their retirement planning with a financial advisor who starts the conversation with full access to their social security account data — so he can focus offering advice, rather than pestering them for data required for a litany of forms.

Imagine a Millennial completing her student loan application through a service that simultaneously matches all of the known scholarships for which she might qualify without requiring her to fill out another application.

Thankfully, the foundation for this movement towards public/private marketplaces is being laid, albeit quietly. We may never fully unclog the gridlock in Washington but we don’t need to get stuck in all that traffic. The Innovative State can serve as our bridge to a better government — and a better country — if we grab the reins and organize the public, private and social sector stakeholders to bring it to life.

(Top image: Courtesy of Thinkstock)

 

Aneesh Chopra is Co-Founder & Executive Vice President of Hunch Analytics. He was previously the first U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

 

 

 

 

All views expressed are those of the author.

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