“These are our friends and neighbors” — States serving the community during COVID-19

Brian CunninghamBrian Cunningham, Account Manager, Optum

COVID-19 triggered a race against time. As the health emergency unfolded, it threatened economic and food security across populations already struggling. Without quick decisive intervention by state governments, many families would see their situation go from bad to worse, losing jobs and income while still managing bills, health care costs and mouths to feed. And all this played out against a backdrop of shuttered offices and stay-at-home orders.

Many state leaders quickly realized more residents would need emergency access to critical state-provided benefits. Faced with an almost unimaginable crisis, state leaders had to reimagine established workflows, protocols and rules to maintain seamless support to families in need.

Here are two examples of how compassion, creativity and teamwork were able to keep the doors open.

Extending insurance coverage for those in need

Under normal circumstances, the state of Massachusetts works with Optum to provide Medicaid eligibility and enrollment in the state’s health insurance system. When COVID-19 hit, 1.3 million MassHealth members and more than 300,000 state-based health exchange members were enrolled.

Day-to-day management of these systems was disrupted, and the state urgently needed to extend and open insurance coverage as far and wide as possible.

Optum partnered with the state, working night and day for 3 weeks to reopen coverage to eligible residents, and reinstate others whose coverage may have been downgraded or terminated.

In all, more than 70,000 Massachusetts residents have been able to enroll or keep their insurance.

“They’re our friends and neighbors”

In West Virginia, state officials work with Optum to manage the state’s Integrated Eligibility system, better known as PATH, or People’s Access to Help. Brian Cunningham, an account manager at Optum, recalls an email that began a sprint for the West Virginia and Optum teams, “Our state partners needed to quickly pivot to a place where they could extend benefits and leave those benefits open.”

No small task. Programs like Medicaid, SNAP, CHIP and LEAP helped provide everything from state assistance for healthcare and food security to heating assistance. Cunningham describes the effort as a gargantuan task, “Typically these types of changes would have required three- to six-month timelines … partnering with the state, we actually rolled out many of these changes in 72 hours.”

According to Cunningham, the coders and technicians who worked on the job at hand knew they weren’t changing code, they were changing lives, “Many of the folks who work on this project are West Virginians, so it gave them a tremendous sense of pride to be able to serve our communities during a time of need.”

Cunningham points to a sense of community as a source of pride for the work that was done so quickly, “When COVID-19 hit the state, no one hesitated. We jumped in and worked with the state immediately. Because of this quick work, the state was able to get these benefits out to families and communities across West Virginia. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of, we partnered with the state and did the right thing.”

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