Even as federal Medicaid funds through the stimulus package dwindle, experts and state officials are collaborating on ways to identify and enroll eligible children in CHIP and traditional Medicaid this year. They are also working on similar strategies to target the millions of adults who will become eligible for Medicaid in 2014. Kaiser Health Network recently interviewed three health policy analysts for their take on how states can bring the nearly 5 million eligible but unenrolled children into the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The experts from the National Academy for State Health Policy, the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities enumerated several strategies states could adopt.
First, simplify Medicaid enrollment by giving states the option to enroll children automatically based on their records with other government agencies like those that administer food stamps or subsidized school lunch programs. In early 2010, Louisiana identified nearly 10,000 children via its food stamp program who were eligible for CHIP or Medicaid by not enrolled. Express lane eligibility could be expanded by developing a joint Medicaid/CHIP online application which eliminates the now-mandatory in-person interview. This expedited process is currently allowed for enrolling children under a 2009 federal law and 18 states already use it as an option. Federal law could further be changed to allow express lane enrollment for adults, especially those who will become Medicaid eligible in 2014. Creating an express lane process which applies to all Medicaid eligible individuals would encourage enrollment by lowering the barriers to entry. Eligibility terms could also be increased from 6 months to 1 year, and the process for renewing Medicaid coverage could be streamlined.
States might also consider eliminating the asset test applied when determining adults’ Medicaid eligibility. This test has already been dropped for parents enrolling their children in most states. One big barrier to enrolling more of the Medicaid eligible population is the social stigma associated with being on Medicaid. Unfortunately, this stigma places Medicaid enrollees in the same category as welfare recipients. Though both these programs provide necessary services to families in need, “welfare” has taken on a negative connotation in popular culture, one which Medicaid has also acquired. In order to encourage a culture of coverage, states could rename Medicaid to something more appealing and which sounds less like a welfare entitlement. My home state of Connecticut already made such a change, renaming CHIP the “Husky” Program after our NCAA Champion UConn basketball teams.
Finally, experts suggested paying incentives to nonprofit social service agencies who help enroll children in Medicaid and CHIP. Some states including Oregon, California, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Illinois, and Indiana have had success enrolling thousands of kids via these groups using paid incentives. Any or all of these strategies could prove useful to Medicaid program administrators in the years to come as the pool of eligible individuals is set to swell tremendously.