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Washington Medicaid uses multifaceted outreach approach
Even during the recession, Washington state has maintained its multifaceted approach to outreach. In 2008, Washington's children's medical programs were rebranded as Apple Health for Kids, with a media and public relations campaign emphasizing that health insurance is available to more children than ever.
"That welcome message has helped increase awareness of public health insurance programs for children during the economic crisis, when many families who have never sought public benefits have found themselves in need," says Patty Hayes, RN, MN, executive director of WithinReach in Seattle, a nonprofit organization working to improve maternal, child, and family health.
State invested in outreach
Prior to the onset of the recession, Washington invested in establishing local outreach in every corner of the state, through contracts with local health jurisdictions and community-based organizations. These outreach organizations identify eligible children in their communities, help families through the enrollment process, and help them keep their coverage when the time comes to renew.
Though payments to these organizations have been reduced due to budget shortfall, the state has prioritized keeping this statewide infrastructure for outreach in place. In addition, a statewide hotline at WithinReach provides information and application assistance to families.
"Apple Health for Kids has been maintained here in Washington. There is further work to develop the buy-in program for those over 300% of FPL as well," reports Ms. Hayes. "In the December budget, the governor did propose a reduction in eligibility to 205% of poverty. However, the governor has now introduced her 'Book 2' budget, which supports a revenue increase to buy back programs such as Apple Health."
Ms. Hayes says outreach challenges vary with the area of the state. Rural areas have the continued challenge of distance, transportation, and the ability of families to follow up, so that they have necessary documentation submitted.
No electronic submissions
While Washington hasn't yet implemented electronic document submission, many community service offices are working to install a scanner, so documents brought into the office by families can be scanned.
However, one continued challenge for outreach organizations involves tracking applications in process. Families can give outreach organizations permission to receive the standard letters from the state and the ability to track their application status. But as the state implements a new system, outreach organizations are seeking an avenue to look up application status and assist families so that timely action is taken.
"This will potentially continue to be a challenge as the state moves to a new system, ProviderOne," says Ms. Hayes. "Outreach organizations have requested the ability to look up application status in the new system, but the state is still working on how that will be allowed."
Efforts in online apps
Washington also has invested in improving online applications, which are a critical outreach tool. In 2009 the Department of Social and Health Services launched an improved online application, which families and social service professionals can use to apply for multiple programs simultaneously, including health insurance for children and adults, child care assistance, cash, and food benefits.
In addition, there is www.ParentHelp123.org, a web site where families can find out about multiple programs they may qualify for and apply with help from the statewide call center. "The convenience of both of these application tools was improved by legislation authorizing electronic signatures," says Ms. Hayes. "Families will be able to apply online without having to mail in a paper copy of a signature page."
Ms. Hayes reports that Washington continues to work with stakeholders to pursue promising outreach and enrollment strategies. These include Express Lane Eligibility and partnerships with schools, with the potential to facilitate the enrollment of thousands of eligible but currently unenrolled children.
The department has convened a workgroup that is working to create additional effective outreach approaches. "This includes a unique partnership with the superintendent of public instruction," says Ms. Hayes. The Free and Reduced Lunch application handed out to families at the beginning of the school year will have a space for families to indicate their need for health insurance. This will trigger a follow-up to the family to assure that children are enrolled in the Apple Health program.
"This is a fantastic partnership between schools, Medicaid, and outreach organizations to assure that children eligible for Apple Health receive that essential benefit," says Ms. Hayes. "It will lead to more children receiving their immunizations on time and those critical preventive visits to their health care provider."
Contact Ms. Hayes at (206) 830-5161 or email@example.com.