The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) awarded the Washington Health Benefit Exchange (WAHBE) a 2021 State Marketplace Modernization Grant. This initiative was funded through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and will allow the 21 State Marketplaces chosen to modernize or update “any system, program, or technology” to ensure that the Marketplaces are compliant with increased financial assistance put in place through new ARP provisions, and that all related federal requirements are met.
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The WAHBE plans to pursue two overarching initiatives in order to successfully update its systems and implement new programs to meet provisions of the ARP. The first program will address consumer education challenges “particularly in Washington’s underserved rural and urban communities”.
With over 28,000 customers signed up for coverage since May 6, and these customers saving a significant amount on health insurance as a result of the new premium subsidies available with the ARP, the WAHBE intends to conduct statewide educational and community outreach events to spread awareness of the new savings available.
According to the CMS award document, through this program, the WAHBE will “…specifically target the uninsured, those currently enrolled in Medicaid who may lose eligibility at the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, and current customers who are receiving expanded COBRA premium subsidies which are set to expire.”
Michael Marchand, chief marketing officer for the WAHBE, said the ultimate goal of this project is to get more people enrolled in health insurance across the state by making them more aware of their eligibility for affordable health care as a result of additional subsidies as part of the ARP.
Many of these people, Marchand further commented, may have never looked at getting insurance on the exchange, and so the target of this consumer education initiative will be those uninsured populations.
“What this is going to mean is that for everyone who’s returning to buy their health insurance for 2022, as well as those who maybe didn’t purchase insurance … this year, they’re going to see more savings than ever before. We already are seeing that, where the 34,000 customers right now have health coverage for $1 per month or less. And more and more people are now eligible for federal money, when previously they had been ineligible.
…so it’s really getting in the community and telling people that this is super important. You’re getting money, make the most of it, and take advantage of the opportunity this year to get health coverage for significantly less than maybe you’ve paid for it in the past.”
The second program the WAHBE plans to pursue will address the technical challenges of implementing ARP provisions on the Washington Healthplanfinder platform. The initiative will work toward increasing system capacity and responding appropriately to system limitations, so that the additional financial help provided to customers through the new ARP provisions will be accurately reflected on Washington Healthplanfinder when someone is shopping for health insurance. Marchand stated:
“Technical pieces are really important as it helps us build the best consumer user experience and create a situation where people know that the dollars that they’re seeing on this screen, related to how much their financial tax revenue would be, or how much they’re going to be paying in their premium … or whatever their expenditures are, that they’re accurate. And that’s always really important because we want to make sure that people have the right numbers in front of them as they’re buying something as important as health insurance for themselves and their loved ones.”
The exact dollar amount of the grant is currently being negotiated. Marchand emphasized the importance of signing up during the open enrollment period starting on Nov. 1.
“This is a golden opportunity for people to get more financial help and find good health insurance. Particularly during a pandemic and a health crisis like we’re experiencing, health insurance is critical.”