This week (April 4-10) is National Public Health Week! The American Public Health Association puts aside a week in April each year to focus on ways to improve health across the nation, highlight important health issues, and recognize public health’s contributions. This week on the blog we’re excited to speak with Jeremy Lapedis, the Executive Director of the Washtenaw Health Plan to learn about all the services they offer in Washtenaw County.
Ahead of the Curve: If you had to give an “elevator speech” about what your organization does, how would you describe it?
Jeremy Lapedis: The Washtenaw Health Plan helps low-income and uninsured people access high-quality healthcare and health-promoting services. We do this by helping people apply for health insurance, enroll in healthcare coverage through the Washtenaw Health Plan, connect to physical, behavioral, and dental health services, and resolve barriers to access such as unpaid bills, transportation, and language/cultural barriers.
Our goals are:
1) that everyone in the county should have healthcare coverage
2) that our clients have access to care, better health, and improved financial stability
3) that we improve healthcare reimbursement and ultimately create a community where the healthcare systems and community partners are responsive to needs of low-income and uninsured community members.
AOTC: Walk me through the step-by-step process. What happens when you get a phone call/referral?
JL: Clients may connect to us by calling 734-544-3030, emailing [email protected], or simply walking into our office. We assess their health insurance needs, answer questions and determine eligibility. Then we help them apply for whatever healthcare coverage would be best for their situation. If needed, we will make an appointment to assist with completing a health insurance application. To help in the process, we may ask them to bring certain documents (e.g., proof of income) required for health insurance applications. After applying, we follow up to ensure that the person’s health insurance application is approved and make sure that there are no other barriers to accessing healthcare.
AOTC: What organizations do you work closely with?
JL: In 2002, the Washtenaw Health Plan (WHP) began as a partnership between Washtenaw County government, Michigan Medicine and St. Joseph Mercy Health System. We continue to work closely with our county partners, including Washtenaw County Public Health, Washtenaw Community Mental Health, Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development and our health system partners. We have close relationships with many healthcare and social service providers across the county, including Packard Health, IHA, Corner Health Center, Hope Medical Clinic, Mi Community Dental Center, Jewish Family Services, Catholic Social Services, Amplify Colectivo, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, Success by 6 Great Start Collaborative, the Michigan Advocacy Program, the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, Avalon Housing, Food Gatherers, the Center for Health Research and Transformation, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
AOTC: What are some things you wish the public knew about your role?
JL: The Washtenaw Health Plan provides services that are relationship-based and focused on the whole person. We provide coverage to about 2,300 county residents as well as help about 2,500 people a year obtain and maintain other health insurance. Helping a person access health insurance is the first step to accessing healthcare, but not the only step. We also make sure they can get an appointment with a provider, access dental care, pay their bills, or apply for charity care if they cannot afford their bills. We have multi-lingual, multicultural staff who are fluent in Spanish and Arabic, and we can serve clients in other languages through a translator. WHP community health workers conduct home visits and help navigate healthcare needs for people who may need more long-term support.
AOTC: What tips do you have for someone with a loved one that needs assistance?
JL: I have a couple of tips:
1) Health insurance is complicated, and you should not feel like you have to figure it out on your own.
2) There is affordable healthcare coverage available for almost anyone in Washtenaw County.
3) Many healthcare providers have charity care programs for people who are unable to pay, even those who may have insurance but have high deductibles.
4) It is imperative to follow up on the mail you receive and update your address with your health insurance anytime you move.
AOTC: Is there anything you would like to add?
JL: In the coming months, the federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) will end. The PHE prevented people from losing Medicaid by stopping renewals and closures. There are now 67,000 people on Medicaid, a 25% increase from before the pandemic. When the emergency ends, people on Medicaid will have to fill out renewals, proving they are still eligible for the program. To receive renewal and other notifications, it is very important that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has updated addresses on file. If they do not, they are in danger of losing coverage. When someone is no longer eligible for Medicaid, they are eligible for a 60-day special enrollment period to enroll in a Marketplace health insurance plan or their employer insurance, if affordable and offered.
WHP staff are Marketplace Certified Application Counselors and Navigators and can help with any applications or questions about applications and eligibility. If anyone has any questions, please contact us by calling 734-544-3030, emailing [email protected], or visiting us at 555 Towner St. Ypsilanti, MI, 48198
Thank you so much to Jeremy for sharing information about this valuable community resource!