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.