BRANSON MO NEWS:
Only a fraction of Missourians who are newly eligible for Medicaid coverage have applied. The state has done little to advertise the expansion, and social workers throughout Missouri say that many of those who now qualify may not even know it despite efforts from clinics throughout the state.
Between 250,000 to 275,000 Missourians will now qualify for Medicaid, said Wendy Hillier of the Compass Health Network. However, according to Saralyn Erwin, certified application counselor for the Northeast Missouri Health Council, a mere 4,200 have applied.
Missourians who previously earned too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to buy their own health care will now qualify for benefits after a judge ordered the state of Missouri to start accepting applications under Medicaid expansion.
“Single adults, especially younger college students, will definitely be able to benefit from this. For instance, a non-disabled single adult can now make $17,000 a year and be eligible,” said Rachel Campbell, the patient advocate team leader at Jordan Valley Community Health Center, “whereas before there wasn’t a program for you to apply.”
The expansion is seen as a big step for public health in the region, according to Steve Hollis, human services manager at the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department. “I have been saying for the last several years ‘if I could wave one magic wand, it’d be Medicaid expansion,’” Hollis said.
Missouri has been a mule in a horse’s race compared to most other states’ expansion of Medicaid eligibility.
Hillier anticipates more applications will come before the state begins processing applications Oct. 1. “I’m curious to see how timely they’re going to be able to do that.”
Walking the walk-ins through
Lori Wyse, chief financial officer at Health Care Collaborative of Rural Missouri, said the clinic had been seeing an increase in application requests to enroll in Medicaid.
“We can help them with the applications, walk them through the information that they need to provide to apply for Medicaid,” Wise said, “and actually walk them through step by step with the application and even submit it for them.”
Applying can be complicated, which is why there are people, like Erwin, who help others with applications for Medicaid and related documents. Becky Whiteford at Fordland Clinic in Webster County is one of these counselors.
“I sit down with them and help them complete that application process and then the follow up,” Whiteford explained. “So, if they have to go get bank statements or whatever, and then bring them back to me, then I send those up too, so I just try to help them through the whole process, not just the application.”
It only gets more complicated when those who are eligible for Medicaid because of a disability do not have the appropriate qualification through social security.
“I help them with that too, because that’s a pretty thick packet,” she said. “And so it can be overwhelming.”
Campbell’s clinic accepts walk-ins and appointments. The clinic staff will walk people through the process, but also supplies computers with assistants on standby for those who feel confident in filling it out themselves. Jordan Valley does its best to fight off “the unknowns.”
“We actually created a direct phone number for (patients) to call into when they have questions about Medicaid,” Campbell said. “And they can speak directly with one of our care coordinators, rather than having to call our main line and go through several prompts to get to somebody.
“We have created flyers for anyone that comes into our buildings that they can have that has a checklist of everything they would need to bring in to apply.”
Making sure everyone has the necessary documents they need before they apply is an important part of outreach for the clinics. Those documents include: a social security number, date of birth, valid ID, proof of income and copy of a birth certificate for anyone in the family that is applying for Medicaid.
“I try to have a pre-conference with people as much as I can before they come into the office and see the things that they might need,” Whiteford said. “So when they come, I can send that up, and it just kind of helps expedite the case.”
Whiteford said even if they do not have the necessary documents, she would sit down and help them do whatever they have to do.
Even though she feels great about all the preparation, the thought that it may not be enough still lurks in Campbell’s mind.
“A lot of it is just preparing for what we don’t know will happen and making sure that we have the resources available to help anyone that might come through our doors,” she said.
Whiteford expressed concerns that the state’s lack of staff to get the applications approved in a timely manner could be a challenge for those awaiting the next step of their health care plan. She said knowing if a person is accepted or rejected is crucial to helping their plan along.
And if they are rejected, she said, “then we go from there, whether we want to reapply or look at the Health Insurance Marketplace.”
Help is on the way
“For folks needing care immediately,” Hillier said, “right now there may be delays to some of that care or they may have to work with the hospital on financial aid or try to figure out a way to pay out of pocket for the care that they need, until the applications are going to be processed on Oct. 1.”
The Biden Administration announced $80 million in grants Aug. 27 to help increase the number of health care navigators like Hillier. The plan will provide funds to 60 organizations across the country to certify over 1,500, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“We’ve been preparing for this in advance, for upcoming Medicaid enrollments,” Iva Eggert-Shepherd, the program outreach manager with Missouri Primary Care Association, said. “Making sure that we have the support in our health centers for the people in our communities to come in.”
The Missouri Coalition for Primary Health Care, a statewide group that includes Eggert-Shepherd and Hillier’s organizations and many more, will receive $1.6 million from the grant to increase outreach and access statewide.
“I tell my staff all the time: Everybody has a bucket to fall in now,” Hillier said. “We won’t be telling vulnerable, sometimes sick or hurt, people that there aren’t options for them. So I’m very excited.”
For those with questions about whether they may be eligible for coverage under the expansion, Eggert-Shepherd recommends calling Missouri Primary Care Association at 573-636-4222.
To apply directly without the aid of a navigator or a certified application counselor, call MO Healthnet Division at 1-855-373-9994 or go online to mydss.mo.gov
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