By BECKY McKENDRY
Capital News Service
LANSING – In only three weeks the state’s Medicaid expansion program that gives health coverage to low-income residents is almost halfway to its yearly signup goal.
The Healthy Michigan program started enrolling low-income residents for comprehensive health coverage on April 1. By April 21, nearly 140,000 people had signed up for the plan – 43 percent of the 320,000 people the state hoped would enroll by the end of the year.
Coverage under Healthy Michigan provides all services required by federal standards, such as emergency services, maternity care and mental health treatment.
The program’s rapid success is a pleasant surprise, said Angela Minicuci, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Community Health.
“We’re so happy with the progress so far,” she said. “We didn’t want to make goals beyond the yearly one because our primary concern was implementing the system, but we continue to be surprised.”
The rollout contrasts with that of the federal healthcare exchange, which was plagued by issues for weeks and even months that inhibited many people from signing up.
Those problems served as examples of what to avoid for Healthy Michigan, Minicuci said.
“We saw from the federal level what can happen if you don’t work out the bugs,” she said. “We tested and tested and retested before we said we were ready to go. You can never be over prepared.”
That preparation didn’t stop every glitch. Some users who tried to sign up online had Internet browser compatibility issues. Others were booted out of the system if they hit their browser’s back button.
The Department of Technology, Management and Budget fixed those glitches in a matter of days.
The website’s relatively issue-free navigation has helped healthcare workers maximize the patients they can help get insured, said Pat Fralick, director of family and community health for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan in Charlevoix.
“We have people on staff who help patients sign up one-on-one and the website’s been working very well for us,” she said. “Our experience has been that it takes about half the time [30 minutes] to sign up for Healthy Michigan as it did on the federal website.”
And when patients can sign up quickly and access plan information easily, it helps spread the word even more, Fralick said.
“Up here in Northern Michigan, we depend on word of mouth,” she said.
This combination of technical support, positive public responses and outreach efforts should help Healthy Michigan continue its strong start, said Dizzy Warner, project manager for Enroll Michigan, a network of healthcare navigators and organizations which assists consumers in finding and choosing insurance.
“We used all the avenues,” she said. “Billboards, TV ads, text message services, social media, community events… and we’re still signing people up. That marketing is ongoing.”
Healthcare officials statewide are optimistic they’ll hit – and potentially exceed – the goal of 320,000 enrollees by December, said Minicuci of the state health department.
The program is “well on its way to changing” the lives of the approximately 1 million uninsured Michiganders, she added.
Fralick, of Northwest Michigan’s health department, shares this hope.
“Many people are still enrolling and we’re still busy helping,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about. People are thrilled to sign up and they’re very, very happy to have good health coverage.”
To find out if you’re eligible for coverage, contact Enroll Michigan at 517-367-7293.
By BECKY McKENDRY