White House urges 'geeks' to get healthcare coverage, launch start-ups

What the White House didn't say: Tech workers may need Affordable Care Act option because of shift to contingent workers

The White House urged tech workers, or "geeks," to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and said having the coverage will give them the "freedom and security" to start their own businesses.

The message was delivered by Todd Park, the White House chief technology officer, in a blog post that included links to several studies that suggest guaranteed health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act will foster startups.

"There is strong evidence that when affordable healthcare isn't exclusively tied to employment, in more instances people choose to start their own companies," wrote Park of its #GeeksGetCovered campaign.

The number of IT professionals who are self-employed is on the rise, but they may not be shifting to self-employment voluntarily.

Employers are increasing the percentage of IT contract workers, and more tech workers may now be self-employed than ever, according to recent studies. But these studies have not drawn a connection between the Affordable Care Act and the shift to contingent workers.

IT hiring was strong in the first half of 2013, but noticeably softened in the second half of the year. Tech hiring picked up last month, but is still below the year ago pace.

David Foote, chief analyst at Foote Partners, in his analysis of last month's labor data, noted that "as hiring of full-time workers has been receding the IT contingent workforce continues to expand." He added: "The focus of IT leadership has for some time been on skills acquisition rather than hiring full timers."

A key argument in the studies cited by the White House is that employer-sponsored insurance has locked people to their jobs because of concerns about having health insurance. One study, published last year by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, estimated that the number of self-employed individuals will increase by about 1.5 million, or more than 11%, because of the access to health coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act.

Bruce Bachenheimer, a professor of management at Pace University and director of its Entrepreneurship Lab, said the White House effort "is a not so thinly veiled attempt to get younger and healthier Americans to register for Obamacare."

Bachenheimer said this latest effort is in the same vein as President Obama's recent appearance on Between Two Ferns, a Web-based video show with Zach Galifianakis, on the FunnyOrDie website.

Bachenheimer said the term geeks "may still be perceived with a somewhat negative connotation and not broadly associated with entrepreneurs in general. Meaning an entrepreneur would be the business leader that makes the decision to get coverage, while the geek may be the employee that expects to have coverage at the start-up he or she works for.

"I really believe Marshall McLuhan was right when he said 'the medium is the message.' "A canned infomercial on WhiteHouse.gov is not the right medium -- think viral," Bachenheimer said.

This article, White House urges 'geeks' to get healthcare, launch start-ups, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

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