HEALTH SHERPA HEROES

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I just want to give a shout out to a group of guys I don’t even know. Three 20-year-old programmers in San Francisco took about three days to create a website to help people get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

As the story goes, George Kalogeropoulos, Ning Liang and Michael Wasser all had extreme difficulties while trying to search out their options on healthcare.gov.

So given that the data they were seeking was public data, they just thought it made sense to take the data on healthcare.gov and make it easier to search for available plans on their own website.

The result being a simple site that lets users enter their zip code, a few details about their family and income, and the ability to secure access to the suggested plans in their area. They call their site “The HealthSherpa” which is in reference to the Sherpa community of the Himalayas who live on the borders of Nepal and Tibet, renowned for their skill in mountaineering. The Sherpa community has become world renown for guiding adventure seeking mountain climbers up the treacherous and often deadly face of Mount Everest.

How awesome is it that these guys took on the role as Health Sherpa to help people like you and me navigate the treacherous landscape of the Affordable Care Act?

Now some of you may be saying come on Geiger, this is old news, those guys did that back in 2013. Why are you just now given them props? Well, the answer to that is because their site is trans formative and they are in the process of gaining massive market share. You see a broker friend of mine lives and dies by his ability to enroll his customers during the October-February enrollment period. I’m always sure to touch base with him during enrollment season to check the pulse of the market at a grass roots level to see what his perception is and how things are going for the little guys. And guess what? His number one complaint has always been the same as our Health Sherpa heroes. And that is, it’s too difficult and too timely to enroll his customers in their health plans. He said at times it would take him up to two hours just to enroll one customer and often times he couldn’t just do it through the websites he was using but would often have to pick up the phone and call for support because of difficulties he was having with the tedious and bug laden sites he was using.

Not this year though. There was a different tone in the sound of his voice this year as I reached out to him. What I heard this year was a relaxed and assured agent as he began to tell me about this new website he started using that allows him to enroll his customers in 15 minutes and at only $10 per application. I could go on with the details about how HealthSherpa works, what it does and what it doesn’t do as well as their financial model but Todd Hixon, a health care contributor for Forbes sums it up nicely…

“HealthSherpa is aiming to create “TurboTax for healthcare”: a consumer-friendly web service that provides a state-of-the-art user interface to healthcare.gov (the federal healthcare exchange). Consumers can create their applications on the HealthSherpa site, and HealthSherpa then connects to the federal systems on the back end, files the application automatically, and provides the necessary feedback to the consumer, similar to TurboTax. When consumers return the next year, their personal data carries forward automatically, making annual shopping much easier.”

So again, why the shout out to our Health Sherpa heros? Because these guys solved a massive problem with the potential for billion dollar implications annually in approximately 72 hours with a few hundred dollars. This is the speed and type of innovation a CEO can only dream of having in her company. Now granted, since then these guys went out and raised $1.1 million in seed money to hire some employees and scale but nonetheless, they’re my latest health care heroes and a company to keep an eye on.

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