Meet the navigators of NH’s Health Market Connect
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently renewed the Covid public health emergency for another 90 days. For those currently enrolled in Medicaid, the extension secures uninterrupted health care coverage through at least Jan. 11. When the emergency declaration ends, however, some may discover that they no longer meet the eligibility requirements for Medicaid. Health Market Connect is a community-based organization that oversees a federally funded program created to provide no-cost health insurance assistance to New Hampshire residents. HMC president Keith Ballingal talked about how HMC is working to ensure that residents are prepared for how their health care coverage may change once Covid emergency waivers and flexibilities are no longer in effect.
What is Health Market Connect?
We’re a solely New Hampshire-based organization that helps citizens of the state enroll in the Marketplace and Medicaid insurances. We’re funded by a grant from the federal government. We have 11 people on the team — we’re known as Navigators — and our goal is to do outreach and to do those enrollments. The team is situated in the unique areas of the state of New Hampshire — so, like, North Country and Monadnock and Seacoast regions — to make sure they understand the unique pieces of those communities.
What does the health insurance assistance that HMC provides look like?
We get an understanding of who they are. If they qualify [for Medicaid or Marketplace], we’ll help them to apply … and to understand the insurance companies they’ll be placed with and how they work. Sometimes there’s also [a need for a] follow-up when the system can’t quite confirm a person’s income — maybe there was a change in the household — and anytime there’s follow-up documentation, we can help the consumer with that as well, for both Medicaid and Marketplace.
Why is it important that HMC is community-based?
In one sense, my team does what healthcare.gov does over the computer or over the phone — we put somebody into insurance — but the team is also community-focused, which means they’ll be in a library or in a local store; they’ll be in those places so that, if somebody really wants to have that face-to-face interaction, they can have that. It’s also our job to know how different places here in New Hampshire work together.
How will the end of the public health emergency affect health coverage, and who will be affected?
A good majority of people on Medicaid. Because of the public health emergency, no one can lose Medicaid, so [people haven’t made] as much of an effort to make sure their information is up to date with Medicaid. … The state has sent out what they call “pink letters” — pink letters in the mail to get the attention of everybody who needs to make sure their information is up to date. … [Qualifying for] Medicaid and Marketplace depends on the number of people in the household and the income. [Consumers with] lower incomes will [qualify for] Medicaid. … Anybody who truly should have Medicaid, who qualifies, needs to make sure their information is up to date so they don’t lose it.
What concerns or confusion have people expressed about that?
The concern from a number of people is that, because they got the pink letter, maybe they’re going to lose their coverage very soon. We need to alleviate that [concern] and say, ‘Listen, we’ll help you get your information in, but because the public health emergency is continuing, you are not, under any circumstances, going to lose coverage yet.’ … I also want to make sure it’s known that there’s an insurance program for everybody. A lot of times, we have people say, ‘Oh, I won’t qualify for [Medicaid or the Marketplace],’ but the reality is there’s an answer for everyone. If somebody gets stuck, it’s just a matter of reaching out, and we’ll be glad to give [their case] a second look to make sure they understand that if they didn’t qualify for one thing, that just means there’s a different solution for them.
Will changes in health coverage brought about by the end of the public health emergency result in people having to change doctors or medications?
Potentially. If there’s a household that’s making a little more income [and wouldn’t] qualify for Medicaid, they’re going to go from Medicaid into the Marketplace. Medicaid has three particular insurance companies, and the Marketplace has three different insurance companies, so in those cases, we want to make sure that as they make that change … they’ll be placed for coverage that will work for them depending on the doctors they need to see … and that the medications they need to take are still covered, hopefully at a reasonable cost.
Are we any closer to knowing when the public health emergency will end?
We always know when it’s going to end — until they move [the end date] again. … We’ve been getting ready in earnest since the summer … to try to make sure we’re ready for those people who have Medicaid but no longer qualify for it.
Featured photo: Keith Ballingal. Courtesy photo.