Medi-Cal: A dire situation for renewals

One of the most important bills awaiting Governor Brown’s signature is Senate Bill 18 (SB 18), which would provide the state with a total of $12 million—$6 million from The California Endowment and another $6 million in matching federal funds—to distribute to community-based organizations for Medi-Cal renewal assistance. It is imperative that Governor Brown sign this bill, because without it, thousands of low-income Californians may unexpectedly find themselves without health coverage.

The situation is dire. The latest Medi-Cal renewal process jeopardizes health coverage for tens of thousands of California’s most vulnerable families. The renewal forms are long, confusing and complex. Some forms were mailed out in English, regardless if the Medi-Cal enrollee indicated that English was not their primary language. The four-page renewal form, required for each family member enrolled in Medi-Cal, is unexpected, new and a daunting task. Making matters worse, if families do not renew in time, they lose coverage.

Why not continue the work California started with the ACA and ensure that everyone who is eligible have the opportunity to renew Medi-Cal coverage?

Why would a state that led the country in implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) refuse to provide Medi-Cal renewal assistance to California’s poorest residents? Without coverage, families and individuals who lack health coverage will refrain from seeking preventative care and instead will seek out emergency care rooms when their health problems become exacerbated, resulting in costly procedures that could have been prevented.

Community clinics and health centers (CCHCs) played an integral role in the successful enrollment of Californians into the Medi-Cal program during the open enrollment period – and they continue to enroll eligible individuals into the program each and every day. We were able to do this work, because these are the patients we serve – more than five million low-income patients each year. Nearly two million of these were uninsured before the implementation of the ACA and many of them now have access to coverage they have never had before. It is imperative these Californians remain covered and not be churned out of the system to end up back in the emergency room for care.

Why not continue the work California started with the ACA and ensure that everyone who is eligible have the opportunity to renew Medi-Cal coverage? The money being offered under SB 18 has no strings attached and the state will not incur administrative costs because it leverages the infrastructure set up during the first year of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation. During that time, the Department of Health Care Services accepted $53 million total from The California Endowment and matching federal funds to finance in-person enrollment assistance. This effort, in turn, resulted in nearly 2 million Californians enrolling in Medi-Cal.

Another reason to take the money: The funds would provide resources to community groups to assist consumers with renewals; $12 million to community organizations will fund certified enrollment assistors, creating jobs in communities that need them. It will also allow state and county workers to focus on reducing the state’s significant backlog of nearly 350,000 Medi-Cal applications as of mid-August. Moreover, funds provided to community organizations would make it possible to provide the much-needed in-person assistance that many groups prefer.

California has witnessed much success with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and has received national recognition for the strides it has made. Our governor and our legislature can’t afford to stop leading the way on the ACA. There is still much to do and many lives counting on California’s ability to provide quality, affordable health care.

Ed’s Note: Carmela Castellano-Garcia is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the California Primary Care Association (CPCA), overseeing a membership association of nearly 1,000 nonprofit, community clinics and health centers.

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