HFS examining next steps for flexibilities provided under public health emergencies

A top Department of Healthcare and Family Services official said last week they continue to examine the flexibilities provided under the federal and state public health emergencies and which ones to possibly continue when the emergencies end this spring.

“We are currently and have been for some time examining each of these flexibilities very carefully, trying to make a plan to either let them expire or continue on with them,” Medicaid Administrator Kelly Cunningham told the Medicaid Advisory Committee.

For instance, the emergencies allowed flexibilities around the use of telehealth, which Cunningham called a “silver lining” of the pandemic.

“We did take the opportunity to do some programming that is going to allow us to better identify the difference between a … video claim, versus a phone claim, versus an in-person service, versus a telehealth service,” Cunningham said. “Because, you may not believe it, but we didn’t necessarily have that capacity before.”

She said they continue to examine data on utilization, adding she does not anticipate “major changes” in the agency’s telehealth policy or practice in the foreseeable future.

Other flexibilities like several rate increases for home- and community-based programs have become permanent, which Cunningham said has been “very beneficial in terms of retention and maintenance of staff.”

Other extensions would need approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Officials also outlined their preparations for the first round of Medicaid redeterminations in Illinois, which are anticipated to begin in April. The first round of redetermination letters will be sent to members in March, with the earliest date that they could lose coverage being July 1.

Evan Fazio, HFS’s director of communications, said they are working to finalize a contract with a vendor — either in March or April — to launch a paid, yearlong advertising campaign this spring to alert residents that redeterminations are set to begin. The campaign will be statewide and include multi-language billboards, television and social media ads.

He said the target of the initial campaign will be Medicaid enrollees and external stakeholders, such as organizations and providers that work with enrollees.

“We want people to use our outreach materials to talk to the Medicaid customers about redetermination. Sometimes their best relationship is not with us but with a different organization,” Fazio said. “And so we want that organization to be well-versed in what we want them to know and how to do it.”

Additionally, he said they will increase their data sharing with managed care organizations to allow them to target enrollees that have yet to update their information as well as those who may have missed their initial deadline.