Emilia Ford became pregnant at 15 and, after her daughter was born, dropped out of high school.
As she held down different jobs during the past decade — including housekeeping and working in a relative’s retail store — she always thought about going for her GED to show she met high school academic skills.
But the Brookhaven, Pa., woman needed assistance finding tutors and paying for the set of four tests, which cost $20 each.
She found help from an unexpected source: her Medicaid health plan.
AmeriHealth Caritas, a Philadelphia-based insurer with 2 million Medicaid members in Pennsylvania and five other states, helps connect members with nonprofit groups providing GED test preparation classes, offers telephone coaching to keep members on track and pays the testing fees.
Ford is one of 62 plan members who have earned a GED certificate since the benefit began in 2013.
“I could not believe this was something a health insurance company would do,” said Ford, 25. “I thought health insurers only paid for medical costs.”
Medicaid health plans are starting to pay for non-traditional services such as meals, transportation, housing and other forms of assistance to improve members’ health and reduce medical costs.
That change follows efforts by state Medicaid programs to give health plans financial incentives to control spending, said Jill Rosenthal, senior program director for the National Academy for State Health Policy.
Rather than continue to pay a set fee each month to cover members’ health costs, many states are implementing policies that let health plans share in any savings they can demonstrate. That provides motivation for insurers to address factors such as literacy and poor housing, which can drive up health costs.
“Health plans now have incentives for them to find the root causes of problems that will reduce costs that will benefit the plan, its beneficiaries and the states,” Rosenthal said.