An Update for Michigan’s Health Coverage Outreach and Enrollment Assisters

As you may have heard, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy & Commerce Committee is holding hearings to uncover why HealthCare.gov isn’t functioning well. On Thursday, October 24, 2013, committee chair Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI) began the hearings by questioning the contractors tasked with creating the website. While it’s important to find out why the website glitches exist and persist three weeks into the first Health Insurance Marketplace open enrollment period, it is more important to remember that the Affordable Care Act is a law, not a website.

About four hours of testimony (you can watch it here), as well as countless media reports, tell us there are problems with the consumer experience on the website, problems with the system that determines eligibility, and problems with the data hand-off to insurers (834 form). All of those processes are expected to work more smoothly by the end of November, according to the contractors now overseeing the project. This graphic from the Washington Post breaks down what’s wrong with HealthCare.gov. This graphic from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  explains what it’s doing to fix HealthCare.gov. In short, the Administration recognizes that the website’s problems are beyond too many people visiting at once, so it’s implementing a strategy it believes will alleviate the frustration many Americans have felt as they’ve attempted to enroll in affordable health coverage.

So where does that leave the hundreds of people across Michigan who have completed hours of federal training and strategized their outreach and enrollment efforts around this website? It provides opportunities to:

  • Continue educating our communities
  • Engage in more outreach now and schedule appointments later, allowing for a consistent flow through the next 150+ days of open enrollment
  • Voice our opinions about how to improve systems
  • Compile other community resources and learn more about how to connect people to a health care home, not just to an insurance card

We have to do our best to inform those relying on us as a resource through the enrollment process that, eventually, the website will work. If it doesn’t work when we need it to, we’ll forge through the paper application and complete the plan selection and enrollment at a later date. The bottom line is, we will do everything within our power to help our neighbors receive the benefits of the Affordable Care Act – whether it is the benefits that are already available, or the benefits to come starting January 1, 2014. We can assure the residents of our communities that they won’t be penalized for not having coverage on January 1, and that some may even qualify for an exemption.

We should also be prepared to answer questions about Medicaid expansion.  According to a Michigan Primary Care Association (MPCA) analysis, about 124,000 of Michigan Health Centers’ adult patients who are currently uninsured will likely be eligible for coverage under Healthy Michigan, the state’s newly expanded Medicaid program that is expected to be available around April 1, 2014. As we encounter questions about Healthy Michigan, we should have systems in place at our sites to capture information so that when the application is open and available, we can connect eligible individuals to coverage.

For those currently eligible for tax credits and/or cost-sharing reductions through the Health Insurance Marketplace, but who will also be eligible for Healthy Michigan coverage down the road, we recommend they apply in the Marketplace now and sign up for text message updates from MPCA so they are notified when the Healthy Michigan Plan opens for enrollment. Text “InfoMI” to 69866 to sign up. Those who are not eligible for tax credits and/or cost-sharing reductions now, but who will be eligible for Healthy Michigan coverage down the road should also sign up for the text messaging program and visit www.enrollmichigan.com to learn about the free and low-cost health care services available now.

Even as I type this message to you, HealthCare.gov is not fully functional, and it looks really, really, really bad, but I’m confident that the site will be revived. In the meantime, there’s plenty of work for us to do to help our communities. We’ll undoubtedly hear a lot more about HealthCare.gov and the Affordable Care Act in the next few weeks from the media, family, and friends, but I advise you to use facts when assisting clients and remember to act in their best interest. Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI) will speak during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing this morning, and on Wednesday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will give testimony during an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing.  MPCA continues to follow developments as they happen, and we’ll continue to support you as you work diligently to enroll people in affordable health insurance.

–Natasha Robinson, MPCA Program Specialist, Outreach, Education, and Enrollment

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