Rightly, many Medicaid agencies put member engagement as a top priority for their work. But many also struggle with how that engagement should work. How can agencies authentically work with members to enhance their experience and course correct for challenges?
At the NAMD Fall Conference, a group of Medicaid members shared their experience engaging with their Medicaid agencies in states across the country. One of the members dubbed themself an “accidental advocate”, as they had never envisioned themselves as an advocate until they had to seek coverage from Medicaid and encountered barriers they thought they could provide meaningful feedback on. Many members who engage with Medicaid, whether it be through advocacy networks, advisory councils, or formal and informal surveys did not seek out their advocacy work, rather they felt it was their duty to raise their voice.
Engaging with members provides Medicaid agencies with diverse viewpoints on the language they use and the policy and programs they shepherd. Members from different cultures, backgrounds, genders, sexualities, races, and ethnicities, bring not just different experiences but expertise about their communities and their needs.
Medicaid programs have a lot to consider when embarking on an authentic member engagement strategy. Consider the following strategies, derived directly from members themselves:
- Start internally at the agency. Truly valuing member engagement starts at the top with the Medicaid Director and dissipates down through the Agency staff. Commit to engaging with members through policies and culture of the agency.
- Approach the relationship with care and respect. Member engagement is a mutually beneficial partnership where the Medicaid agency can learn and members can be heard. Communication is a two-way street, so consider taking member feedback and then reflecting back to them how their feedback has been incorporated.
- Value member’s time. Make the meeting accessible by holding the meetings near public transport, during times when childcare is available or by offering virtual options. Listen actively throughout the meeting to gain the most from the time spent with the Medicaid members. Compensate members for their time and expertise.
- Start with small engagements and then increase involvement. Sometimes engagement is as simple as completing a survey and being put on a list for further communications. Provide increasing levels of engagement opportunity, ranging from surveys to phone calls to advisory council membership.
- Continually evaluate who is sitting at the table. Make sure that there is diverse representation amongst the members you are engaging with, and be aware of the language being used, focusing on person-first language.
Remember, it takes courage on both sides to engage in authentic conversations. Medicaid staff open themselves up to critique and possible criticism, and Medicaid members humble themselves by sharing their experiences and asking for help. Approach member engagement with good intention and prioritize the work so Medicaid members feel like their voices are truly being heard and their feedback is being implemented.