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Opinion: Achieving California’s Health Equity Goals Depends on Getting This Process Right

Imagine you receive a stack of papers in the mail, some 20 pages long. You need to read them, confirm and update your personal information, and then find and get copies of physical proof of your income and other household details. The clock is ticking: Your health insurance hinges on your ability or inability to take action in fewer than 60 days. Now imagine English isn’t your primary language, or you work full time, or you are the primary caretaker of your kids or other loved ones. Or imagine you, like thousands of people who are unhoused, do not have reliable access to mail.

For the first time since 2020, millions of Californians are renewing their Medi-Cal benefits. This is typically an annual process that was paused during the pandemic. The federal government sent states more money in exchange for keeping people enrolled during the public health emergency enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 15.8 million people have Medi-Cal (California’s version of Medicaid), which provides health coverage for people with low incomes. They include families, people who are undocumented, seniors, children, single adults, people with disabilities and many others. According to the California Health Care Foundation, Medi-Cal covers more than 50 percent of all births, and more than 1 in 4 enrollees speaks a language other than English.

The California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) just released June 2023 data. Alarmingly, the share of people whose Medi-Cal was terminated is higher than in 2019, the last time this process occurred. For people whose renewal papers were due last month, counties cut off Medi-Cal coverage for more than 25 percent of people simply for paperwork reasons — not because they were no longer eligible for coverage. Instead, their Medi-Cal coverage ended automatically because that is what the county’s computer system is programmed to do if the paperwork isn’t received or processed on time or is incomplete. In June 2019, the cutoff rate was just under 19 percent.

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Homeless advocates give list of demands to San Francisco

A coalition of homeless advocates and civil rights attorneys released a list of demands for the City of San Francisco to settle a lawsuit that forbids police from forcing homeless residents off public property.

The letter sent to City Attorney David Chiu on Thursday offers a proposed settlement to resolve the lawsuit, Coalition on Homelessness v. City of San Francisco. A U.S. District Court judge found in favor of the plaintiffs in the underlying lawsuit last year, and the court issued an injunction against San Francisco.

“At its heart, San Francisco’s homelessness crisis is an affordable housing crisis,” said Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “Instead of ensuring that Californians without housing have universal access to a safe, permanent, and affordable place to live, harassment tactics continue to displace and segregate unhoused people. The city’s homelessness problem will never be solved until there is an affordable place for people to live.”

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Patients in California County May See Refunds, Debt Relief From Charity Care Settlement

California’s largest public hospital plans to start notifying 43,000 former patients Monday that they may be eligible for refunds or billing corrections, part of what advocates called a major legal settlement that will help force the hospital to fulfill its charity care obligations.

Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, along with other units of county-owned Santa Clara Valley Healthcare, will also adopt procedures to ensure patients are informed of their eligibility for charity care, which nonprofit and public hospitals must provide.

“This is huge,” said Helen Tran, a senior attorney with Western Center on Law & Poverty, which joined another California-based legal group, the Consumer Law Center, in a lawsuit against the hospital. “It’s so important that the hospital is stepping up to take corrective action. That’s something we haven’t seen many hospitals do.”

Filed in 2019 and settled in June, the lawsuit alleged that Santa Clara Valley Medical Center billed patients and sent them to collections for charges they should not have been required to pay. Emily Hepner, one of the plaintiffs, was a full-time student, raising two children alone,and uninsured in 2014 when she needed urgent surgery, according to the lawsuit. The hospital never followed up after telling her she might be eligible for charity care and, nearly a year later, she received a $34,884 bill. The hospital later sued her for that amount plus attorney fees.

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DHCS official discusses Medi-Cal unwinding data

California began redetermining Medi-Cal eligibility of members in April, and has since disenrolled 225,231 individuals, while 499,093 individuals have maintained their Medi-Cal coverage, according to Yingjia Huang, assistant deputy director of Health Care Benefits and Eligibility at the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS).

This week, Huang hosted a webinar with stakeholders to go over Medi-Cal unwinding information, and shared the state’s interactive dashboard to explain June data.

The diversity and volume of individuals in California make Medi-Cal redeterminations an extraordinary task for all involved, Huang said, adding that over 15 million Californians will undergo the process. DHCS began preparing for the unwinding several years ago when the federal public health emergency was put in place because they were unsure of when the emergency order would end.

The data on DHCS’s dashboard helps the department develop strategies and investments for supporting the Medi-Cal population, and helps the department decide whether it needs to alter messaging to members.

“This is the first time the department has ever posted something so early, which is 45 days after the actual last day of the coverage month of June,” Huang said, adding that DHCS usually reports data 90 days after June, or in October. “This is in the spirit of full transparency in the unwinding journey.”

Total Medi-Cal enrollment for June was 15,568,357 individuals statewide, with the first set of disenrollments taking place on July 1st. While the state continues to conduct redeterminations, individuals are continuing to sign up for coverage. In June, DHCS received 143,069 applications in total, 125,145 of which were determined to be eligible for Medi-Cal coverage or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

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Western Center on Law and Poverty suggests California pauses Medi-Cal disenrollments that are due to procedural reasons

With Medi-Cal redeterminations underway following the end of the federal public health emergency, the Western Center on Law and Poverty (WCLP) is concerned about recently released data from the state, which shows that 225,231 individuals have been disenrolled from the program so far.

For the renewal period beginning in April, a total of 1,052,030 individuals underwent a renewal, of which 199,852 were terminated due to procedural reasons. Procedural reasons may include being unable to complete renewal packets, and the state not having up-to-date contact information for beneficiaries. David Kane, senior attorney at WCLP, spoke with State of Reform about his concerns with the high level of terminations.

WCLP has been working with California’s Department of Health Care Services for over three years to prepare for this redetermination process. WCLP meets with the agency twice per month and reports challenges they hear about from the community. The Center also advocates for policy changes that will make it easier for Californians to renew and maintain coverage.

The state says procedural errors occur when individuals fail to turn information in, but Kane said many are attempting to renew their Medi-Cal but run into roadblocks. Bumps occur when individuals attempt their annual renewal through the phone—which is critical for those who don’t have a physical address—need to conduct the renewal during their lunch break, or don’t receive paperwork in the language they speak. Phone wait times have also increased, with LA County having hold times of 45 minutes to one hour.

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Tens of thousands lose Medical eligibility

About 225,000 Californians lost their free or low-cost health coverage as of July 1st in the first round of a Medi-Cal renewal process – which had been suspended since early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number makes up more than 20 percent of the 1 million or more people who were due to reapply for coverage in June.

Less than three percent of those who lost coverage lost it because their incomes now exceed program limits. Most lost it because they didn’t submit a renewal packet and could not have their incomes verified.

Staff attorney David Kane told CalMatters “I don’t think today’s preliminary numbers mean we can all sit back and think things are OK, these disenrollments are not inevitable.” He added that the lack of responses could be due to not receiving the packets or not getting the packets in their language.

Anthony Cava of the California Dept. of Public Health told KALW that it’s not too late for some residents to hold on to their Medi-Cal coverage. If you’ve lost your insurance, Cava advised Californians to: return packets to their county office; notify them if you’ve moved; and to return any yellow envelopes promptly.

The state will review eligibility for about 16 million people over the next year. Those who were dropped from Medi-Cal on July 1st have 90 days to re-apply for reinstatement.

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Thousands dropped from Medi-Cal in first eligibility check since the start of the pandemic

New data shows Sacramento County disenrolled 9,650 people from Medi-Cal in June. It was the first time in three years it and all other California counties have checked for eligibility.

The majority of people who were dropped did not return the renewal packets that were sent to the last address the county had on file. The same is true on the state level. Of the 225,000 California residents who were disenrolled in June, almost 9 in 10 were dropped because they didn’t complete the renewal paperwork.

“It’s extremely troubling,” said David Kane, senior attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty. “Nobody looked at their cases and said, ‘you’re over income or you no longer qualify.’ They were cut off merely for paperwork reasons.”

Kane said many people have changed their addresses in the past three years, and may have never received the packet. Meanwhile, in Sacramento, community health workers say long wait times and a lack of communication from the county make it difficult to help people renew their coverage.

Medi-Cal, California’s low-to-no-cost insurance program for people with very low incomes, is in the first month of a yearlong renewal process.

Throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, a federal policy called “continuous coverage” ensured that people could join Medi-Cal but could not be taken off. When the public health emergency ended this spring, counties began checking whether people were still eligible for the first time since 2020.

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People are losing their Medi-Cal coverage, what can be done?

More than 200,000 people have lost their Medi-Cal health coverage, mostly because they didn’t return paperwork.

Those preliminary numbers come after the state brought back a renewal process that had been suspended during the pandemic.

For more on the implications, Jennifer Hodges spoke with David Kane, a senior attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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Who is waiting for rent relief

More than 250,000 California renters, unable to make their rent during the height of the pandemic, applied to the state for assistance — only to have those applications denied or sit pending for months.

Now, for the first time, we know a little bit more about who those tenants are.

On Friday, the California Housing and Community Development Department published a demographic and geographic breakdown of the applicants who were denied federal emergency rental assistance distributed by the state, along with a summary of all the renters who are still waiting for help — and the reason why they’re still waiting.

The new data comes courtesy of a legal settlement struck in late May between the agency and a coalition of tenant rights organizations.

  • Madeline Howard, staff attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty: “This is federal money that is being given out by the state, so I think it’s tremendously important that there be transparency about who is getting the funds and that it’s being distributed in a non-discriminatory way.”

Under the terms of the May 30 agreement, the agency agreed to flesh out its appeal process, better explain its denial decisions and start publishing monthly data summaries within 30 days.

Fifty-two days later, the first summary is up:

  • 123,306 applications were denied: No racial or ethnic group appears to have been disproportionately denied compared to the overall applicant pool.
  • 143,391 applications are still pending: For 65%, the state is waiting on more information from the applicant. Another 28% are mid-appeal and only 1% of applicants have had their applications approved but haven’t yet received a check.

Jonathan Jager, an attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, said he isn’t surprised a majority of pending applicants didn’t complete their applications.

  • Jager: “It was so hard to interpret the denial notices or the various requests from HCD, so of course people would sit on these tasks.”

Last month’s settlement is meant to simplify the process, but for many renters it may be too late, as the last remaining pandemic-era eviction bans are coming to an end across the state

On Saturday, Oakland’s moratorium came to an end. Renters in Los Angeles have been exempt from eviction over any rental debt accrued between March 2020 and Sept. 30, but that moratorium ends on Aug. 1. And Berkeley’s will end on Aug. 31.

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225,000 Medi-Cal enrollees lost coverage in June; here’s how that compares with prior years

A three-year hiatus ended in June for more than 1 million California Medi-Cal enrollees. They once again had to prove they were eligible for the government-funded health care coverage, and roughly eight out of 10 got their paperwork in by the June 30 deadline, California Medicaid Director Jacey Cooper said Thursday.

That was about the same proportion of enrollees who successfully completed monthly re-enrollment in California before Congress enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring states to continue covering anyone who was approved for Medi-Cal or any other Medicaid program around the country.

Beginning in June and continuing through May of next year, Medi-Cal enrollees have to re-apply for coverage by the end of the month in which their eligibility dates fall.

Medi-Cal discontinued coverage for about 225,000 individuals, or roughly 21% of people whose coverage came up for renewal in June, Cooper said, but those who lost coverage have 90 days to provide the necessary documentation and restore their coverage retroactive to the cut-off date.

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