Next steps for Virginia health insurance after successful enrollment period

Over 48,000 Virginians gained health insurance through the state marketplace during the 2021 Special Enrollment Period (SEP), which concluded Sunday, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The SEP report estimates over 2.5 million Americans overall gained health coverage through HealthCare.gov and state marketplaces during the SEP.

 

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Medicaid enrollment in Virginia has also increased since the start of the pandemic. According to the Virginia Department of Medical Assistant Services (DMAS), 117,268 adults enrolled through new eligibility rules under the COVID-19 public health emergency. Total Medicaid enrollment increased by 228,528 members, including 72,286 children according to DMAS.

Recent Medicaid reforms, such as reducing the 40 quarter work requirement and expanding dental and maternal health coverage, increased the number of eligible applicants in the Commonwealth.

To encourage Americans to sign up during the SEP, the Biden-Harris administration launched a campaign of testimonial advertisements to educate the public about coverage options. 

Deepak Madala, Esq., director of the Center for Health Communities and ENROLL Virginia! at the Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC), said while federal advertisements were helpful, Virginians benefitted even more from local organizations more familiar with their community’s needs. 

“Whereas HealthCare.gov is doing broader messaging, [VPLC] had [ads] playing in Spanish radio stations, we had some Korean newspaper ads and things like that. Targeted stuff so that we’re reaching segments of Virginia where we’re seeing higher than expected uninsured rates.” 

Freddy Mejia, a health policy analyst at the Commonwealth Institute, said it is important to learn more about demographics of who enrolled over the course of the pandemic, such as younger applicants. 

“In the past, trying to get younger folks, younger adults, to enroll in coverage, even if it was free or if it was low cost, was pretty difficult. I guess there was a sense of not needing health coverage. 

I think the pandemic has shown that coverage is important, and reinforced that message for folks and made some go the extra mile to actually log in and see what their coverage might look like. Hopefully they’re pleasantly surprised that it was a lot more affordable than they thought it would be.”

Despite more Virginians gaining health insurance, Madala says there is still work to be done, such as improving communication between Medicaid and the marketplace, increasing the number of carriers in rural counties, and making the coverage selection process more seamless for consumers. This is especially important for immigrant communities, who in the past may have deferred applying for coverage due to fear of information disclosure, said Madala.

Mejia expressed a similar sentiment, and said part of his work with the Commonwealth Institute is drafting a state-funded coverage option for children regardless of immigrations status.

“It would basically be a state-funded program that would look and feel just like CHIP coverage, but that essentially would be available to any child, as long as they meet their income eligibility levels for CHIP.”

The General Assembly included Medicaid expansion in the 2018 budget bill, extending health coverage to over 500,000 Virginians. Currently, a federal public health emergency declaration is preventing people from being disenrolled from Medicaid. However, Mejia said the declaration will only last until January 2022, and if it is not renewed, Virginians could lose coverage due to factors like income ineligibility or having to relocate during the pandemic.

“If the emergency does end, there’ll be a lot of work to make sure that people who do lose coverage will need to be connected to the federal health insurance marketplace.”