Editor’s Note: Craig Kennedy is President and CEO of Medicaid Health Plans of America.
As you’ve seen time and time again on the news, we are making real strides in vaccinating Americans against COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 63% of all American adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. This gives us hope that life will return to some semblance of normalcy.
However, according to a recent Gallup poll, 24% of Americans do not plan to get vaccinated, and 78% of that population say they are unlikely to rethink their plans. This resistance to vaccination is an obstacle to achieving the herd immunity necessary to provide better protection for all.
Medicaid Health Plans of America, the leading industry group for Medicaid managed care organizations, and its 130+ membership plans that serve over 40 million Medicaid members nationwide have worked diligently with our government partners to improve vaccination rates for some of ours Most vulnerable people are increasing populations across the country.
While numerous efforts have been made to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccines, communities of color – which are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in terms of cases and deaths – have lower vaccination rates than their white counterparts. Colored communities have historically been disadvantaged in access to health care and at higher risk for underlying health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, diabetes, and HIV / AIDS – all of which pose a higher risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 .
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to address these differences and fill the void so that more of our fellow Americans can be vaccinated. A critical step is to increase data sharing between government health authorities, Medicaid agencies, and Medicaid MCOs.
Through a better exchange of state vaccination registry data and the coordination of awareness-raising and public relations work, we can make our cooperation more targeted and reach those who still need a vaccination. Medicaid enrollments have increased during the pandemic, and the program now includes more than 72 million Americans. With MCOs serving more than 70% of Medicaid members, our Medicaid-focused health plans are well positioned to reach hard-to-reach and underserved populations.
Medicaid MCOs are already helping states manage and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by using our own data analytics and demographic intelligence to proactively reach out to those most at risk from COVID-19. With vaccine supply now more readily available, MCOs and the community-based organizations we work with have the capacity and resources to use multiple channels to engage Medicaid members and communicate factual information about COVID-19 vaccines, essential to overcoming cultural fears and language barriers, and legitimate concerns about effectiveness and safety with the various communities served by the program.
MHPA membership plans will continue to support the effective distribution of COVID-19 vaccines through our collaboration with Medicaid providers and ongoing efforts to coordinate community engagement. But more needs to be done to keep the momentum going for those who are not yet vaccinated.
We need a more robust “partnership path” that facilitates access to data, especially to the vaccination information systems of the states, in order to provide the best possible information about our measures. Timely access to vaccination registry data would greatly improve the ability of health plans to extend the reach of members and identify where vaccination gaps might exist.
This strategy can be extended to commercial health plans to increase vaccination rates outside of the Medicaid population – a win-win for our overall public health, our economy, and our ability to overcome this public health crisis. While some states, including Massachusetts and Utah, have already taken steps to exchange vaccination registry data, many still have to act. We can go back to some semblance of “normal” but we must work together and the actions outlined above will help equip Medicaid MCOs with the data they need to help our country deal with all of our COVID-19 -Achieve vaccination goals.