Communicating the PHE Unwinding: How States Are Collaborating With Community Partners
Becky Lopez and Laura Buddenbaum, State Health and Value Strategies
To avoid potential coverage losses when the federal public health emergency (PHE) is declared over and the Medicaid continuous coverage requirement ends, states will need to communicate with enrollees and other stakeholders, including community partners, about the actions they need to take to keep individuals enrolled in Medicaid or transition to another form of health coverage. The first expert perspective in this two-part series on how states are conducting outreach and planning highlighted several states that have promoted transparency through the public release of their unwinding operational plans. This expert perspective reviews examples of states that are collaborating with community partners to support their outreach and engagement efforts.
Funding Community-Based Organizations
Several states are providing financial support to community-based organizations (CBOs) as a strategy for reaching enrollees during the unwinding of the continuous coverage requirement.
- In Arkansas, the Department of Human Services (DHS) recently announced that it will award mini-grants to CBOs to engage Medicaid enrollees in preparation for the end of the PHE. The mini-grants will support the CBOs’ outreach and engagement efforts. DHS is also seeking to engage the CBOs in assisting with the renewal process within their communities. Applications from CBOs will be prioritized to provide grants to those with a proven track record for serving low-income children and adults, low-income people in rural communities, and low-income pregnant or postpartum individuals. CBOs will identify their participation level as either a Basic Outreach Partner (eligible for a one-time $500 mini-grant per county served, up to $2,500), which will host local meetings and distribute DHS materials, including through social media, or an Enhanced Outreach Partner (eligible for a one-time $5,000 mini-grant per county served, up to $25,000), which will also assist Medicaid enrollees in completion of their renewal.
- In July 2022, the Connecticut Office of Health Strategy released a request for proposals (RFP) seeking approximately 15 community-focused organizations that can assist in outreach, education, and enrollment in the Covered Connecticut program (which was established to close the health insurance affordability gap for low-income individuals who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford coverage through the state’s health insurance marketplace, Access Health CT). Among other questions, the RFP asks respondents to state how they will raise awareness about the importance of the end of the PHE. The state anticipates awarding a total of $950,000 through the initiative.
- In Massachusetts, the state legislature allocated $5 million for a community-based outreach and education campaign to be implemented by Health Care for All, which has run other community-based outreach campaigns, such as the state’s Vaccine Equity Initiative. Health Care for All will support the redetermination process by leveraging CBOs and faith-based organizations to conduct outreach to individuals; leading local community-specific social media campaigns; and conducting one-on-one outreach.
Community Partner Webinars
In other states, Medicaid agencies are hosting webinars to share information with community partners about the end of the continuous coverage requirement and to highlight how partners can help communicate with members.
- In September 2022, the Alabama Medicaid Agency provided a COVID-19 public health emergency update for advocacy groups and other partners who interact with Medicaid enrollees, during which agency representatives shared how they are preparing for the end of the PHE and the return to normal operations, as well as key messaging.
- In Colorado, the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing has hosted two webinars for community partners and has planned a series of additional webinars throughout 2023. These webinars are geared towards advocacy organizations, providers, and community organizations that may provide other assistance, such as housing or social services, to Health First Colorado (Medicaid) or Child Health Plan Plus members.
Creation and Distribution of Outreach Materials
As detailed in the first expert perspective in this series, many states have created stakeholder toolkits to ensure consistent messaging as they encourage stakeholders to communicate with Medicaid members about the upcoming resumption of normal operations at the end of the PHE. Other states are taking additional steps to engage stakeholder and partner organizations in close collaboration on the creation and distribution of outreach materials to enrollees.
- The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) plans to enlist a media vendor to create toolkits for partners and an aligned outreach campaign. This is in response to research that has shown that MaineCare (Medicaid) members, “benefit from hearing information about their coverage from both DHHS and trusted messengers like community-based organizations, health care providers, and other government leaders.”
- Utah Medicaid has asked advocates to review the agency’s notices to ensure they are clearly written. The state is also requesting feedback from tribal nations on communication strategies.
- The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) created a PHE Unwinding Task Force and uses feedback from their meetings with these partners to refine their unwinding plans. In addition, DHS hosts biweekly stakeholder calls to provide information about the unwinding and created a new unwinding communications email list to share new resources with stakeholders as they become available.
Community Partner Trainings and Events
Finally, some states are providing training to community partners that can provide trusted assistance with the renewal process.
- The California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) is encouraging diverse organizations that can help reach enrollees in culturally and linguistically appropriate ways to sign up as Coverage Ambassadors and training them in advance on best practices. These DHCS Coverage Ambassadors will connect with Medicaid enrollees at the local level through targeted communications.
- Michigan created a webpage highlighting the importance of community partners in unwinding and is encouraging volunteers to sign up to become a MI Bridges Community Partner to assist enrollees with the MI Bridges application portal for state and local services, including Medicaid. Additionally, the state has invited community partners to participate in a series of webinars to discuss the end of the PHE.
- During a New Hampshire presentation on the unwinding, the state’s Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) discussed their strategies for preparing for enrollment transitions at the end of the PHE, including community outreach. DHHS reports hosting 46 events since May, including an event with over 280 community partner participants.
- Oklahoma Medicaid has specified in their unwinding operational plan that they will begin training community partners 30 days before the end of the PHE to: 1) assist individuals ineligible for Medicaid with other affordable coverage options, and 2) provide an extensive list of community resources to ineligible individuals.
- Pennsylvania is recruiting trusted partners to serve as “PHE Helpers” to assist in the PHE unwinding process through their connection to individuals that will need to renew. They are also recruiting COMPASS Community Partners, or community-based agencies, organizations, coalitions, and other groups that wish to help Pennsylvanians submit applications for health and human services.
- Lastly, Washington has created the Apple Health (Medicaid) community connector program, a group of volunteer community partners that act as ambassadors, to share messaging and ensure Apple Health clients have the information and resources needed to maintain coverage when the PHE ends. These volunteers also attend monthly check-in meetings with other community connectors to ensure a cohesive voice and consistent messaging.
As states prepare for the unwinding of the Medicaid continuous coverage requirement, keeping enrollees updated on the return to normal operations will be critical. The key steps states can take include collaborating with organizations that have close ties to their communities. States should leverage partnerships with CBOs to develop multiple communication channels for reaching enrollees. These collaborations will be essential to preserving continuity of coverage and care for individuals, whether through renewal or transition to another form of coverage.