Commentary

Ohio Medicaid made a commitment. Let’s hold them to their word

March 30, 2022 3:20 am

File photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Medicaid is the second largest health care provider in Ohio, serving more than three million of our state’s most at risk and underserved people across all communities.

In our state’s most populous counties with the densest urban cores – Franklin, Cuyahoga and Hamilton Counties – between 30% and 35% of residents are enrolled in Medicaid. The numbers are similar across rural Ohio as well. For example, in counties along the river and the West Virginia border, from Columbiana County down to Lawrence County, no less than a quarter of residents in any county rely on Medicaid; and the county with the highest percentage of its population on Medicaid is Pike with nearly 45%.

Medicaid in Ohio is not flawless, but it has been hugely successful serving millions of Ohioans regardless of where they live, their race, or their gender. One of the prime reasons for its success is the open enrollment process. Through open enrollment, Medicaid enrollees can select a new plan if they want to, or can remain in their current plan without any unnecessary or burdensome action on their end. 

Elected officials and community leaders across the state raised red flags when the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) last year planned a change to the open enrollment process. Under the planned change, if a Medicaid member did not select a plan during open enrollment, they would be assigned to a plan that could be different from their current plan.

The current system — which automatically reenrolls them in their existing plan if they don’t actively make a change — works well and keeps the choice in the hands of the consumer. This change would have been burdensome, threatened health care choices, and could have led to negative health outcomes on a widespread scale. An in-depth analysis by Innovation Ohio Education Fund found that it could have caused unnecessary disruptions in health coverage and other challenges associated with the government reassigning health plans without consent. 

Additionally, recent failures by our current state government and ODM raises legitimate concerns about their ability to implement such an enormous change. Remember, this is the same state government that was an abject failure on processing unemployment claims for those who needed it during the pandemic; and this is the same Medicaid department that recently improperly paid out a whopping $118 million in fraudulent claims.

Fortunately, ODM Director Maureen Corcoran has since reversed course on this planned change, and made a strong commitment that no Ohio Medicaid members are at risk of having their plans changed unless they themselves willingly make the change.

However, due to ODM’s inconsistent narrative, as well as the gravity of the situation, it is only fair to approach her commitment with skepticism and shine a light on the importance of holding her to her word. To fully understand the importance and urgency of ensuring Director Corcoran does not waiver or backtrack, it is instructive to take a close look at the evolution of ODM’s narrative on the previously planned change to open enrollment.

After initially planning to implement the change for the 2021 open enrollment period, ODM in late August last year succumbed to push back from elected officials and community leaders, announcing it would postpone the change until the July 2022 open enrollment period. 

Fast forward to early 2022 — a January 13 draft ODM report maintained the original plan, stating that Medicaid members who do not make a choice “may be re-assigned.” (The report is available at the bottom of this article.) By late January of this year, reporting confirmed that the new open enrollment process “set to launch in July gets rid of the automatic re-enrollment” and if you don’t select a plan, you’ll still have coverage — it’s just an algorithm will be used to do it for you.” ODM did not correct the reporting when asked for comment.

Then, in an enormous victory for Ohio Medicaid members, by the beginning of February, ODM and Director Corcoran reversed course and decided against proceeding with the change. It culminated during a Feb. 17 Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee hearing when Director Corcoran made a strong commitment that no Medicaid member would have their plan changed unless they decide to during open enrollment. 

During that same hearing, Director Corcoran claimed that she conveyed back in August 2021 that “we would in fact be continuing anyone on their plan if they did not choose.”  (The comment from Director Corcoran is available at 52:40 in this video.) But documents published by the department as late as January said the opposite. If a change had been made, it was never shared with the press or stakeholders.

Regardless of how, when or why Director Corcoran arrived at the decision, it will protect Medicaid and millions of Ohioans. However, ODM’s shifting narrative over the last year and Director Corcoran’s inability to clearly communicate her department’s plans, does not instill great confidence in her commitment. It is incumbent upon community leaders, elected officials, and the media to hold Director Corcoran to her word. 

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Desiree Tims
Desiree Tims

Desiree Tims is President & CEO of Innovation Ohio who hails from Dayton, Ohio. She has worked for several national nonprofits, The White House, and U.S. Congress to name a few. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Arts from Xavier University (Cincinnati, Ohio), a diploma from The Campaign School at Yale University, and a Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center.

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