Oct, 20, 2020

Collaborating to Connect Consumers to Coverage

Julie Bataille and Mariah Jones, GMMB

This year has presented many unique and unexpected challenges, but as open enrollment approaches states are making concerted efforts to connect residents with public and private health coverage options and are anticipating more churn between programs than ever before amid the COVID-19 public health crisis. Millions have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began, many losing their employer-sponsored health coverage or experiencing income loss in the process. As consumers navigate ongoing changes in their income or health coverage, it is more important than ever to clearly communicate with consumers what health coverage options are available for the remainder of 2020 and heading into 2021.

Insights to Drive Enrollment in Coverage

Recognizing the changed consumer circumstances this year and considering insights from recent message research conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, there are a few messages to reinforce to get consumers to check out coverage options during open enrollment:  

  • Drive awareness that financial help is available to lower the cost of a plan, and in some cases, there may be free or low-cost coverage options. As consumers manage financial pressures from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to reassure consumers that there are affordable coverage options for them. Many consumers don’t know that plans and prices change every year, so messaging should reinforce that even those who have applied for help in the past should try again because most people qualify for financial help.
  • Emphasize that free, safe help is available for consumers to explore their health coverage options.This year, as many consumers are unable to predict their income and face continued uncertainty, an already confusing enrollment process may now feel even more overwhelming. Removing this barrier by providing multiple channels for consumers to seek help safely, can be a key tool in empowering consumers to explore their coverage options.
  • Reinforce that if consumers have experienced a change in their life, that they may have options to enroll in coverage immediately. Make consumers aware of special enrollment opportunities and encourage them to enroll to be covered now, even if they only anticipate a temporary lapse in coverage. Clearly communicate the opportunities and deadlines for consumers to enroll in both 2020 and 2021 coverage.

Coordination in the States

With open enrollment rapidly approaching, state government entities, including Medicaid and Marketplaces—often working in concert with consumer advocates and enrollment assisters—are using these insights to coordinate outreach and education to help consumers get and keep the coverage option that is best for them. Consumers that have previously purchased Marketplace plans or had private coverage may no longer be able to afford premiums and will find themselves eligible for Medicaid – and Medicaid members may find themselves without coverage once the federal public health emergencies expire. To prepare for this, states are actively coordinating to put in place a “no wrong door” strategy for consumers seeking coverage options now and enrolling for 2021. 

  • New Mexico: To ensure consumers understood their coverage options throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the New Mexico Human Services Department, Medical Insurance Pool, and beWellnm (the state-based marketplace) established a task force to develop educational materials for consumers that explained the various coverage options available. This coordinated effort has provided important education to stakeholders and enrollment assisters planning for open enrollment and will allow consumers to compare their coverage options, including eligibility levels and information about how to apply or seek help across Medicaid, Marketplace, and other health plan options offered by the state. Additionally, these materials have been distributed through partner organizations, churches, foodbanks, and community organizations to ensure these resources reach consumers where they’re at.
  • Nevada: The state-based marketplace, Nevada Health Link, along with its Division of Welfare & Supportive Services (DWSS), and the state’s Medicaid agency have proactively coordinated to ensure that Medicaid beneficiaries know their coverage options, in anticipation of disenrollment when the federal public health emergency ends in 2021. When redetermination mailers are sent to Medicaid beneficiaries, a Nevada Health link fact sheet outlining affordable health insurance options and how to get help enrolling will be included to ensure residents know about Marketplace options and have information to help them get and stay covered. Likewise, Nevada Health Link is promoting enrollment through Medicaid for residents experiencing income changes that may make them eligible for coverage.

States will surely continue to adapt open enrollment outreach and education efforts to ensure that consumers have every opportunity to enroll in the best health coverage for them. As the public health crisis continues to evolve, it will be critically important for states entities to coordinate and collaborate to help consumers navigate their own evolving needs and circumstances.