How Milwaukee Won the White House Healthy Communities Challenge

In November, the White House launched a “Healthy Communities Challenge” and identified twenty cities with large numbers or high percentages of uninsured individuals to compete in enrolling new people in plans during OE3. Through this challenge, communities made concentrated efforts to reach remaining uninsured individuals and helped connect them to coverage. Good news and hearty congratulations to our friends in Wisconsin: Milwaukee won the White House challenge!

Milwaukee signed up 75 percent of the uninsured individuals eligible for marketplace coverage, which translates to 38,000 new enrollees in the Milwaukee area during OE3.

As the victorious community, Milwaukee not only received bragging rights, but also a visit from President Obama last week. I spoke with Navigator Seth Heithaus at Covering Wisconsin to find out the secrets behind Milwaukee’s success. Seth told me that, “the success that we’ve seen has really accumulated over the course of three years, not just this year.” He also attributed their widespread enrollment to a longstanding commitment and partnership to execute the initiative. The Milwaukee Enrollment Network (MKEN), which includes Covering Wisconsin, local health systems, FQHCs, insurance companies, community organizations, nonprofits, and additional stakeholders worked hard together to implement a successful outreach strategy that achieved these impressive enrollment numbers. Seth lists the following as critical to their approach:

  • Collaborating with other stakeholders
  • Planning and advertising outreach and enrollment events far in advance
  • Whenever possible, hosting events in locations uninsured people have other reasons to visit

Seth emphasized that a variety of funding, including support from the Navigator grants, enhanced outreach efforts that really helped them reach unenrolled members of the community. With the support of MKEN, Covering Wisconsin conducted targeted outreach to the Latino community by placing print and radio ads in Spanish, as well as distributing fliers with a calendar of local events. There was a lot of thinking ahead in planning outreach events that would reach populations otherwise not connected to the healthcare community.

Seth also stressed the importance of promoting enrollment events far in advance and trying to hold the events in locations where there could be multiple reasons an uninsured individual might be there. For example, they held events at public libraries and at the Centro Hispano to reach people who had not yet considered a pathway to coverage.

As an MKEN member, the city of Milwaukee directed significant resources to enrollment promotion this year, as well. In addition to expanded media and transit advertising, the city placed more than 60,000 enrollment reminders in water bills, conducted robo-calls with city housing residents and placed a message on the City Call Center greeting, heard by 1,500 to 2,100 callers a day. All MKEN messaging directed consumers to call 2-1-1 to get connected to a local assister for in-person help. Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett and county executive Chris Abele also actively drew attention to local enrollment services through press conferences and other efforts.

Additionally, Seth pointed out that the three-year navigator grants are especially helpful to get ahead of planning. This year, funding decisions were not announced until September, so it was difficult in the early months to plan and promote outreach events, according to Seth. By January, Milwaukee found its stride.

So you may be wondering what’s next after coverage? Covering Wisconsin is focusing on insurance retention. With so many new people enrolled, they want to ensure new enrollees both retain and use their health coverage. They plan to add a checkbox on the consumer’s consent forms asking permission to follow up twice by phone. The first call would be to check in a couple of months to make sure consumers pay their premiums and also ask if they have questions about utilization. The second call will serve as a reminder to update information and renew coverage when the next open enrolment beings. “We saw a lot of new enrollments this year as opposed to re-enrollments, and want to do more to make sure people are retaining their coverage,” explained Seth.

We are excited to see Milwaukee build on this outstanding progress, and hope that other cities can adopt these outreach strategies to connect people to the coverage they need.

The author would like to thank Seth Heithaus for sharing his insights with Say Ahhh! readers.