HARRISBURG—Pennsylvanians who receive Medicaid have a new resource to assist them in finding employment and support, thanks to system created last year.
The state Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller has outlined the Medicaid Work Supports system, a program designed to connect people whose health care is covered through Medicaid to local employment and training resources, with a goal of supporting people in finding long-term employment and achieving financial independence.
As Pennsylvania continues to experience economic challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, DHS hopes this program can be a bridge to employment for people affected by job or income loss.
Medicaid provides critical access to health care for people who would not otherwise have access to essential services like preventative visits, screenings, and medications – things we all need to stay healthy and lead an enriched, fulfilling life.
Many people on Medicaid are over the age of 65 or have a chronic illness or long-term disability. Medicaid also supports people ages 19-64 with incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines. Medicaid connects more than 3.1 million Pennsylvanians to basic and life-saving health care, and enrollment in this program has grown by 300,000 people since February 2020, likely due to the economic insecurity created by COVID-19.
Prior to February 2020, most Medicaid recipients did not have a targeted connection to employment resources and support.
“One of the DHS’ top priorities remains increasing employment opportunities for those we serve. We know that many people who use safety-net programs want to work and reach their potential in jobs that lead to independence,” Miller explained. “We recognized an opportunity to offer more support to people who need it in a meaningful way that meets people where they are. The Medicaid Work Supports program – a proactive, direct referral to employment and training resources – is an opportunity to fix disparities and help all people served by this system take a step forward in life.”
DHS worked with partners across the state – including the Department of Labor & Industry, Physical Health Managed Care Organizations, Local Workforce Development Boards, and more – to implement a systematic identification and connection framework to increase workforce participation and long-term employment outcomes.
Now, when someone enrolls in Medicaid for the first time or transfers Medicaid plans, they are asked if they are interested in learning about employment resources. If they respond “yes,” they receive one of the following three outreach strategies depending on their circumstances:
A letter that explains the services available at their local PA CareerLink™ office. PA CareerLink™ provides services including help with searching and applying for a job, providing a list of local job openings, and counseling to explore career interests. Some participants may also be eligible to receive support for new training and education opportunities.
If the individual is a recipient of other benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the recipient’s County Assistance Office will reach out to discuss the person’s interest in a DHS-approved employment and training program. The CAO will help with the referral and supports as needed.
If the person is not in either of the previous groups, they will receive outreach from their selected MCO, which oversees a range of their health care services. Several MCOs have in-house programs ranging from GED support to general employability skills workshops to trainings for positions within their own healthcare systems.
These outreach and referral efforts are tracked by DHS to ensure that Medicaid beneficiaries receive the supports and information they requested. DHS is also working with the PA Department of Labor & Industry to collect data on the program’s long-term outcomes for individuals who participate, such as time employed and wage gains. DHS will use this information to inform future decisions regarding Medicaid Work Supports programming.
Since the launch of Medicaid Work Supports in late February 2020, more than 38,000 people have indicated an interest in learning more about local employment resources, averaging about 800 people per week. Early reviews indicate that these efforts are creating space to discuss not only employment, but a range of other complex situations individuals experience, all of which contribute to stability and economic independence. In the future, use of the Resource Information and Services Enterprise PA tool will further support these efforts to address social determinants of health as part of the whole-person approach.
The Medicaid Work Supports program is not a work requirement, which as a policy functionally jeopardizes individuals’ access to health care and undermines efforts to help people achieve long-term employment. This program was designed to help people, especially communities that experience greater barriers to finding and retaining employment, move out of poverty.
Through person-centered services and a commitment to reform, DHS’s workforce-focused efforts aim to confront the impact of systemic racism and the inequities that racism has created over many decades. About 25 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries are Black despite being 13 percent of Pennsylvania’s general population.
Poverty is not a personal or moral failure, but it is often a consequence of systemic racism and limited resources in particular communities or neighborhoods, which can often be tracked back to segregation-era policies. DHS is focused on uprooting systemic racism and promoting economic justice, particularly for all communities and individuals who use public assistance programs.
“As we look to recover from the economic crisis created by COVID-19, we hope that this focus on equity and opportunity for all people will allow us to help people who may not have been reached or meaningfully served by similar efforts previously. Economic recovery for all Pennsylvanians helps all of us, and the Medicaid Work Supports program gives us a way to help people in this journey. If there are individuals who have fallen on difficult circumstances because of the crises and collective trauma we are all facing, help is available,” Miller said.
Applications for Medicaid and other public assistance programs can be submitted online at www.compass.state.pa.us.
Those who prefer to submit paper documentation can pick up an application at their local CAO, where social distancing protocols are in place, or they can print from the website or request an application by phone at 1-800-692-7462.They can then mail it to their local CAO or place it in a CAO’s secure drop box, if available. You do not need to know your own eligibility in order to apply. While CAOs remain closed, work processing applications, determining eligibility, and issuing benefits continues. Clients should use COMPASS or the MyCOMPASS PA mobile app to submit necessary updates to their case files while CAOs are closed.
For more information on DHS’ E&T Programs visit www.dhs.pa.gov.