2021 MHPA Conference Recap

We’re starting to see a return to in-person events, such as the recent 2021 Medicaid Health Plans of America (MPHA) Conference in Washington, DC. The annual meeting brings together managed care leaders from national and regional health plans to explore policy solutions to increase the quality of care for all individuals enrolled In Medicaid and to reduce care costs for those individuals and the overall system.

Multiple sessions across 2 days showcased the flexibility of managed care and how health plans and states are partnering to advance customized initiatives that serve Medicaid enrollees — especially some of our most complex members. Many of the sessions that were co-presented by states and community-based partners showed true collaboration across sectors, particularly when it came to social determinants of health (SDOH).

Another key takeaway involved the crucial role of data – and specifically, data interoperability – on moving the needle on health outcomes. Discussed in a broader context than just enhancing technology, data interoperability was highlighted for its ability to improve provider relationships and workflows, and make integrated care delivery more effective. The topic remained a central focus throughout the conference.

Additional critical topic areas related to state Medicaid agencies, MCOs, and members included everything from COVID-19 to serving complex members to children’s mental health needs. The keynote address, presented by Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, communicated the mounting pressure on states to resume Medicaid renewal and redetermination activities at the conclusion of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE). The topic was also the sole focus of a policy-track session during the conference. These activities have not been allowed during the PHE due to maintenance of eligibility (MOE) requirements in exchange for enhance federal medical assistance percentages (FMAP), introduced in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). When redeterminations resume, millions of Americans could lose Medicaid coverage. Brooks-LaSure indicated that this will remain an area of concentrated effort for the administration.

Children’s mental health was also a chief priority. Dr. Arethusa Kirk, a practicing pediatrician, and current National Senior Medical Director for UnitedHealthcare Community & State, participated in a panel of clinicians and health plan leaders who discussed how to advance practice and policy to support children’s mental health. The panel highlighted the need for health plans to focus on this growing issue and illustrated examples of initiatives and partnerships that are in development or are already being advanced to support the overall well-being of children and their families. Read more about one such initiative related to the challenges and opportunities in supporting children’s behavioral needs.

A couple of statistics shared at the conference demonstrated the urgent need to address youth and mental health. According to the CDC, mental health-related visits to the emergency room between 2019 and 2020 increased 25% for 5- to 11-year-olds and 31% for those ages 12 to 17. The pandemic has played a particularly impactful role on the health and well-being of children, not only by dealing with the trauma of COVID-19 itself and the health impacts to one’s family but the combined education, economic and social justice challenges of the last 18 months — especially for children of color.

Finally, roundtables and other sessions during the conference offered a glimpse into the most significant priorities for health plan leadership, including preparing for a post-pandemic world and redesigning and upgrading the Medicaid program’s eligibility and enrollment processes. The valuable insights gleaned from the conference will surely help inform many decisions in the coming year and beyond.  

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