Section 1413(c)(1) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires each state to “develop for all applicable State health subsidy programs a secure, electronic interface allowing an exchange of data …that allows a determination of eligibility for all such programs based on a single application.” That means state health benefit exchanges must operate as integrated marketplaces offering both commercial insurance plans (referred to as Qualified Health Plans or QHPs) as well as Medicaid coverage for those whose household incomes meet their state’s Medicaid eligibility guidelines. The policy rationale – known as “no wrong door” and “one touch and you’re done” – is to reduce the ranks of the medically uninsured by simplifying the process of getting health coverage and removing roadblocks to enrollment.
Implementing that Affordable Care Act mandate, however, has been challenging from IT integration standpoint given the variety of legacy state computer systems that manage their Medicaid programs and state rules governing them, including those of the three dozen states using the federal marketplace, healthcare.gov.
That’s also been the case in California, where enrollment elegance has proven elusive. “I think we’ve oversold simplicity,” said Frank J. Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California. Mecca made that observation today at a California Healthcare Foundation (CHCF) briefing in Sacramento on early consumer experiences with enrollment in the Golden State’s exchange, Covered California.
Mecca described the IT interface between the California Healthcare Eligibility, Enrollment and Retention System (CALHEERS) and the IT system that manages Medicaid eligibility and enrollment, the Statewide Automated Welfare System (SAWS) as a “clogged highway.” Consequently, Mecca noted, a large backlog of potential Medicaid enrollees remain stuck in the system. Mecca credited Covered California and the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), the state’s Medicaid administrator, for their efforts to remedy the backlog and improve the interface between the two IT systems. “It’s not an easy thing to fix,” Mecca added. “Things have improved tremendously, but we still have a long way to go.”
Both Mecca and another panelist at the briefing, Sonya Vasquez, policy director of the community-based health advocacy and policy organization, Community Health, said greater emphasis should be placed on marketing both Covered California QHPs as well as Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, particularly given Medi-Cal does not have set enrollment periods. They also said more effort should be made to make consumers aware in-person assistance is available for those seeking to enroll in coverage, including welfare department staff who can sign up applicants for either Covered California QHPs or Medi-Cal. (California is among those states have expanded Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of federal poverty guidelines).
Consumers participating in focus groups conducted in early 2014 by PerryUndem Research/Communication were mostly uninsured and had substantial knowledge gaps for both Medi-Cal and QHP coverage and advance tax credit subsidies for the latter for households with incomes between 138 and 400 percent of federal poverty. (Click here for the full report on the findings presented at today’s CHCF briefing.)
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