BOSTON (SHNS) – The state program that helps people acquire required health insurance policies is preparing for an influx of new enrollees as enhanced federal funds for Medicaid are scheduled to be cut off in March.
At the start of the pandemic, Congress required that state Medicaid programs keep people continuously enrolled through the end of the month in which the COVID-19 public health emergency ended. The federal emergency is due to come to a close this spring.
Continuous Medicaid enrollment ends on March 31, and the federal government is phasing out pandemic-era enhanced funds this year. As Bay Staters who qualified under COVID-19 provisions lose their MassHealth coverage, the Health Connector Authority, which aims to connect people in need with affordable health plans, is preparing for up to 200,000 new members.
Since the start of the pandemic, MassHealth enrollment has increased by a third, up from 1,750,966 in December 2019 to 2,337,799 members in December 2022. The program is the largest in state government and is jointly funded by the state and the feds.
Meanwhile, the number of Bay Staters using the Connector has declined as more people have qualified for government-funded plans. Starting with 294,584 members in January of 2020, the Health Connector was down to 214,102 members as of January 2023.
The Health Connector is opening a special enrollment period from April through November for those who lost MassHealth coverage to make the transition “as smooth as possible,” Director of Policy and Applied Research Marissa Woltmann said at a Health Connector board meeting Thursday morning.
“Helping individuals and families find coverage that’s right for them as Medicaid protections end is our top priority this year,” Woltmann said. “And we’re really pulling out all the stops to make sure it’s successful and we get everyone across the finish line.”
Health insurance is required in Massachusetts and to prevent people from falling out of coverage, the Connector is planning an information campaign that will include sending mail, emails and text messages, and using social media, TV and radio visibility, robocalls and even door knocking to let people know they may lose their insurance and can enroll in Health Connector coverage.
People cut off from MassHealth will be messaged once a week for two months, and then three times a month after that, communications director Jason Lefferts said at the board meeting.
The authority is working with MassHealth to create an “integrated eligibility system,” so someone who is notified of a MassHealth termination online can immediately begin the process of using the Health Connector to find a new plan, Lefferts said.
After notice of termination, individuals will have until the end of the following month on MassHealth, meaning, if someone were alerted in February that they would lose their insurance, they would need to find a new plan by March 31 for uninterrupted coverage.
The Health Connector is also planning to bolster its staff for the coming wave of new members.
They’ve retained part-time staff the authority hired in the fall for their annual open enrollment session, and are increasing the number of full-time employees to take incoming calls and chat requests by an additional 135 to 170 people. The authority is also adding supervisory staff and are evaluating options for extended hours of operations during the period when people are transitioning insurance coverage.
“We know that people will have very different experiences with this,” Woltmann said. “They may not send their form back, or lose it under their pile of to-do’s, and when they go to the doctor four months later they’ll realize they’re without coverage. So we want to make sure we’re accounting for that level of confusion or disruption.”