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What we’ve learned from our Facebook community for Obamacare enrollees

Last month, Vox launched a Facebook group for enrollees to talk about their shared experience.

The day after the election, Vox health reporter Sarah Kliff sent out a tweet with a request: She wanted to talk to people who relied on Obamacare coverage and were worried about what the law’s repeal could mean for them.

The 250-plus responses she got came from all over the country. It quickly became clear that not only is there a large group of Americans who are unsure of what will happen next with their health coverage, but they wanted to talk about it.

Last month, we launched a Facebook group for Obamacare enrollees. The group has grown to more than 1,000 members. We’ve stepped back and watched group members make this space their own, a place where they share their stories and interesting articles, ask questions about health plans, and generally support one another in this uncertain time.

We’ve learned that a Facebook community can be an incredibly productive space for our readers to go through a shared experience together — and for us at Vox to interact with our audience in a completely new way.

On our website, our roles are very defined: We write stories, and our audience reads them. Information flows from our writers to our readers. But in our Facebook community, roles are much more fluid: All of us are sharing and commenting on stories, with information flowing both ways.

Who are the group members?

We collected data using a Google survey with 195 responses from the 1,046-member group. The average age of the respondents is 46.5 years. The group is geographically diverse: We received responses from people living in 42 states and the District of Columbia (New York is most heavily represented in our data).

Most respondents are using the Obamacare marketplace — and buying coverage for themselves:

About half of our marketplace enrollees use tax credits; most use silver plans:

Enrollees experience frustration with deductibles and premiums:

Data like this is only part of story we are getting from the community. Concerns about the future of their coverage and current challenges with premiums are personal and important to understanding the state of health care in America.

With those concerns come personal questions that need addressing. So we recently polled the group to see what kinds of people they’re most interested in hearing from. Shortly after, we hosted a Facebook Live Q&A with Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA. We asked him questions we received from our Obamacare Facebook group about states initiating their own single-payer health insurance, whether or not subsidies for low-income Americans will be reduced, and the options for covering existing health conditions — including how to prevent insurance being dropped when an expensive condition develops.

Finding a safe space on social media is rare

Mary Baker Eaton, a 64-year-old from Massachusetts and a member of the Facebook group, recently explained to Vox by phone why she appreciates the community and feels protective of the space.

“The only ideology that the group has is that we don’t want to die. We’re a bunch of people, and this is life or death for us. This is not Republican, this is not independent, this is not Democrat,” she said.

Before joining the group, Eaton didn’t talk about health care on Facebook at all. There’s so much misinformation out there, she says, which can make it difficult to have an intelligent and informed conversation online.

“This is the first place I can talk about — and have other people talk about — the Affordable Care Act where, at least in the first month, it feels like a welcoming place, and a safe place.”

Building a mutually-beneficial community

It’s not always easy to find a group of people to geek out with you over health care policy. But that’s what we’ve found here. And we’re having a lot of fun.

Sarah and I are constantly experimenting with ways to engage the audience and provide them with valuable information they are looking for. Sarah often drops in interesting resources she comes across while researching stories with a note about why it’s important:

And the community also gets to go behind-the-scenes of the reporting process:

This is only the beginning. We have some big plans for the group in 2017. Our goal for this group is to create a community, and we’re thrilled to see that community is thriving.

Next Friday, we’ll sit down with President Barack Obama to discuss Obamacare. We’ll be conducting the interview in front of an audience that we’ve partly selected from our Facebook community.

Watch this short video to learn more:

If you’re an Obamacare enrollee and interested in being a part of this community, please join us. We look forward to your contributions to the group.

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