The WHI’s Medicaid and Marketplace Outreach and Enrollment Work Group—also known as MMOE—serves the county by implementing projects and fostering partnerships that increase health insurance enrollment across Washtenaw County. This includes connecting with community partners, analyzing data, giving presentations, and hosting events that educate and encourage people to sign up for Medicaid or Marketplace health insurance.
In 2021, the group’s efforts were bolstered by a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) that gave people significantly more time to enroll in insurance as well as new sources of funding that significantly reduced the cost of those plans for consumers.
The usual window for enrollment is fixed and brief
While exact dates can vary, open enrollment for the health insurance marketplace typically lasts six to eight weeks in the fall. However, the special enrollment period in 2021 extended that window for an additional six months the following summer.
A key strategy of the SEP was to allow enrollees to take advantage of new American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding that drastically reduced premiums and made plans more affordable.
Kim Hulbert is the Financial Clearance Manager in Financial Counseling and Oncology Financial Navigation at Trinity Health and co-chairs the MMOE work group.
“Many plans offered lower premiums and deductibles,” notes Hulbert, “which means lower out-of-pocket costs for enrollees. That was good news and one of the biggest changes from previous years.”
Federal funding made health insurance more affordable
According to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, after more generous premium tax credits from the ARP went into effect on April 1st, 2021, 35 percent of new and returning consumers paid less than $10 per month for their plan.
Furthermore, for those selecting new plans during last year’s special period, the average monthly premium fell by 27 percent and the median deductible fell by nearly 90 percent.
Hulbert notes the importance of getting the new information out to folks so that they’re aware of these changes, especially related to affordability.
“We have people who maybe tried to get insurance through the marketplace years ago, but they found it difficult or they thought they couldn’t afford it,” explains Hulbert, “so now, they just don’t try [to get] it.”
To spread the word, MMOE partners with other organizations that conduct outreach—including faith-based organizations, school districts, and employer groups. They develop and distribute electronic and printed flyers in English and Spanish.
They also sponsor enrollment events with other organizations, such as a 2021 virtual enrollment event with University Health Services at the University of Michigan, which helped 65 students with enrollment.
The public health emergency kept more people on the books
The Public Health Emergency (PHE), which went into effect on January 31, 2020, also helped MMOE’s mission—by requiring states to provide continuous coverage for current enrollees until the end of the month in which the PHE ends.
In previous years, Medicaid clients would be annually redetermined by their income, number of children, and other household criteria. Clients were also required to resubmit paperwork and other documentation. Subsequently, for various reasons, some would lose their coverage, even when they may still be eligible.
But the PHE has been renewed nine times since 2020, keeping Medicaid enrollees continuously covered. With a looming end to the PHE expected to occur this fall, MMOE leaders are worried that a significant number of people will lose their coverage.
MMOE is focusing on local communities with the greatest needs
Currently, MMOE is analyzing Medicaid and Marketplace enrollment data from the past five years to identify progress and trends. The group is focusing efforts on parts of Washtenaw County that continue to show higher pockets of uninsured people—most notably, the Ypsilanti area.
Alena Hill is the Senior Director of Revenue Cycle Pre-Services at Michigan Medicine and also co-chairs the MMOE work group.
“We’re really looking at how to connect with these communities,” says Hill. “Because even when we see a decrease in the uninsured, there’s still more to do—maintaining folks’ coverage, seeing what else they may qualify for—and just trying to keep them involved.”
Hill thinks that the pandemic may have helped get more people engaged and open to signing up for health insurance—but that helping them understand what’s happening next and stay engaged is the next challenge.
She notes that MMOE works year-round to create trusted partnerships with groups that are connected to high uninsured communities in the county.
“We’re working on being a trusted ally before open enrollment starts up,” affirms Hill. “So that when it comes, people say ‘We know them, we trust them, this is a good group that can help us with this.’ It’s a more proactive strategy.”
And while Hill notes that 100 percent coverage may not be realistically attainable, it’s the goal that MMOE will continue to strive toward.
“It’s funny—I feel like we repeat the same thing over and over,” says Hill, “But it’s true. It’s still our goal. And we’re going to keep reaching folks with information and resources.”
WHI stakeholders can help MMOE by opening doors to organizations and contacts with whom they have strong connections—especially in underinsured areas.
If you’d like to get more involved with MMOE, please email the work group’s staff representative, Erin Horne, at email@example.com