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Steps taken to mitigate effects of ‘returned mail’ rule

 The Journal Record | July 2, 2019

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has taken steps to ensure that people won’t lose health care coverage in the wake of a new federal rule that mandates confirmation of a mailing address to sustain enrollment in Medicaid programs.

The “returned mail” policy was adopted in response to a directive communicated to the OHCA last fall by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It outlined a requirement that state agencies that administer Medicaid programs, like Oklahoma’s SoonerCare and Insure Oklahoma programs, reconfirm eligibility of enrollees who may have had changes in circumstance, like an address change.

“In accordance with the new policy, a member’s eligibility will be terminated if his or her mail is returned to the agency as undeliverable, when … a reasonable but unsuccessful attempt (has been made) to verify the member’s current address,” the new policy states.

Members of the OHCA board voiced concerns about the rule and how it might affect homeless people or other Oklahomans who might face difficulties receiving mail. They eventually voted in May to adopt the rule, however, so as to remain in federal compliance. The rule was made official recently after Gov. Kevin Stitt signed it.

OHCA Chief Executive Becky Pasternik-Ikard said two “working groups” have contributed to plans for actions to be taken by the OHCA to best ensure that Medicaid enrollees in Oklahoma won’t be unnecessarily removed from rolls when the rule takes effect in September. One of their recommendations was to place a “banner” ad on a webpage that enrollees visit to access Medicaid program portals. It stresses to enrollees the importance of keeping the OHCA advised of their current mailing addresses. Pasternik-Ikard said the website also now includes easy-to-follow directions on how to update mailing addresses. She said that when enrollees call for assistance they’ll now hear recorded messages advising of the policy. Soon, enrollees whose addresses haven’t been able to be confirmed will receive calls with pre-recorded messages advising them to update their information.

Pasternik-Ikard said the OHCA also has created signs to post in offices and medical facilities. She said the agency has reached out to others, like the Oklahoma Department of Health and the Indian Health Service, that might help in getting the word out. At least three “webinars” will be held to let health care professionals know how they might help in ensuring that SoonerCare and Insure Oklahoma enrollees provide up-to-date information to the OHCA.

The working groups will remain intact for six months, so they’ll be able to review results and make any other needed recommendations.

“It’s our goal to utilize the best, most effective strategies to reach our members,” Pasternik-Ikard said.

Currently, there are about 808,000 Medicaid program enrollees in Oklahoma. For the vast majority, mailing address and other information remains current. It’s been estimated that trouble might be encountered confirming information for 2% or less of enrollees. But, Joe Dorman, chief executive of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, expressed concerns in May that those affected might include a number of children.

Dorman, who participated in one of the working groups, expressed optimism on Tuesday that the OHCA has done all it could to ensure that Medicaid recipients won’t lose access to health care coverage.

“I think they did everything they could to follow the rule they had to adopt but also to reach out to Oklahomans to let them know of their responsibility, that they have to make contact and update their information,” he said. “There will always be concerns for people who might fall through the cracks, but I’m hoping every person will be reached, and I’m optimistic that more Oklahomans who might qualify for (Medicaid services) might now apply for the benefit.”

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