June 17, 2024

Don’t let health coverage lapse

More than 200,000 Californians lost their health coverage this month. Many can get it back, though, if they act quickly.

Medi-Cal is California’s version of the federal Medicaid program. It provides health care to low-income Californians, people with disabilities, pregnant women and children. It’s coverage for people who cannot afford health insurance but still deserve basic human dignity and care.

California has done a generally good job with Medi-Cal. There are nitpicks, of course, but overall the program has effectively created an environment in which almost all Californians have some health insurance. Medi-Cal covered nearly 16 million people earlier this year.

Enrollment jumped during the pandemic. That was in part because more people lost jobs and signed up. It also was because federal pandemic rules told states not to go through the normal renewal process. Anyone who had Medi-Cal at the start of the pandemic kept it.

When President Joe Biden declared the national emergency over in the spring, federal health officials rolled back pandemic rules and regulations, including the renewal waiver. That meant California had to start checking whether recipients were still eligible. This was a return to normal, a step back from the extraordinary, not an unforeseen curtailment of benefits.

Californian completed its first round of checks recently and dropped more than 200,000 enrollees. Playing the averages and probabilities, hundreds and maybe thousands of them live in the North Bay. Some probably didn’t receive or missed a renewal packet that they had to fill out. Some received their packet in the wrong language. Some just dropped the ball. And some knew that they were no longer eligible because their income or something else had changed.

That last group notwithstanding, that’s a lot of Californians who now don’t have health insurance but could under Medi-Cal. They just need to complete the paperwork.

Paperwork is no fun, but it’s a necessary part of bureaucracy. In this case, doubly so. Honestly answering the questions on a renewal form helps the state verify who is eligible. The paperwork also encourages accountability. Taxpayers pay a lot to support Medi-Cal recipients. They deserve some means of verifying that the state is running the program well.

The good news for those whom Medi-Cal dropped is that there’s something of a grace period. They have 90 days to apply for re-enrollment. The income cap is 138% of the federal poverty level. That’s $20,121 for a single person and $41,400 for a family of four. Those who think they might be eligible can learn more at medi-cal.ca.gov.

California was not alone in this. Medicaid recipients across the nation have been caught up in the transition from pandemic to more normal times.

This is just the first round of Medi-Cal review. Subsequent rounds over the next year will drop more people from the program. Anyone currently enrolled in Medi-Cal therefore should keep an eye out for a renewal packet in the coming months so that they don’t risk losing health coverage. And if they miss it, don’t miss the window to re-enroll.

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