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EPIC News – September 2021


Accessing Health Care in a Disaster

September is National Preparedness Month, so Western Center’s health team created a resource to help Californians access health care during a disaster, and condensed it into a blog post. Survivors of disaster have a right to health care when, where, and how they need it – unfortunately, they might have to fight for it. We recommend reading the full resource for detailed information about special rights and remedies available to survivors seeking prescription drugs, medical supplies and equipment, physician and specialist care, eligibility and coverage, health plan enrollment changes and more.


Awaiting the Governor’s Signature

The California Legislature is out of session – now we have until October 10th for the governor to sign our bills to make them law. We will provide a full roundup of our 2021 legislative efforts after things settle next month. In the meantime, here are a few priorities we are working hard to get the governor to sign:

  • AB 1020 – Health Care Debt and Fair Billing: Ensures Californians don’t need a lawyer to get financial assistance for hospital bills, and that more people are eligible for help with medical debt, which is the largest source of debt collection in the U.S. and disproportionately impacts people of color.
  • AB 1461 – Benefits for Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), and Asylum Applicants: To offer access to critical state and local services for non-citizen survivors of domestic violence and parental mistreatment, children who are abandoned or neglected, and people who fear persecution.
  • AB 1487 – Homelessness Prevention Fund: Helps California tenants access legal representation during eviction. Western Center policy advocate Tina Rosales wrote an op-ed explaining why AB 1487 is necessary, drawing on her experience working as a tenant attorney in Los Angeles.
  • SB 65 – California’s Momnibus Act: Implements interventions to address race-related pregnancy and birthing mortality disparities for parents and infants in California. Western Center policy advocate Jen Flory and coalition partner Nourbese Flint from Black Women for Wellness wrote an opinion in CalMatters outlining the need for SB 65.

Native American Day in California

September 24th was Native American Day in California, which is home to the country’s largest Native population, and second largest number of tribes. Native American Day honors those who first lived in what is now California, and this year Governor Newsom signed a series of bills aimed at advancing equity and providing support for Native communities across the state. As with all days, weeks, and months of acknowledgement, there is still much to be done not only to repair past and present injustices, but also to incorporate Native wisdom into plans for a more inclusive, sustainable future. The federal Native American Heritage Month is in November.


Latinx/ Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15th – October 15th is Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month, when we recognize the incredible contributions, talent, culture, spirit, and diversity of Latinx/ Hispanic communities in the United States and beyond. Diversity is one of the most dynamic parts about the Latinx/ Hispanic experience, which is reflected in ongoing conversations about how people choose to identify. This piece from NPR provides context for the development of the term “Hispanic” in the United States, the history of Hispanic Heritage Month, and the ongoing conversations around it. And this piece from Human Rights Campaign does an excellent job explaining the rise of “Latinx” as a term that is more inclusive of gender non-conforming people.

With Latinx/ Hispanic people making up almost 20 percent of the U.S. population and close to 40 percent of the population of California, there’s a lot to do to achieve equity and much-needed representation for Latinx/ Hispanic people and communities. In 2021, Senator Alex Padilla became the first Latino Senator from California, despite the state’s high Latinx population. Padilla may be the first, but he cannot be the last.


“Party” With Us! 

Invitations are out for our annual Garden Party fundraiser on Thursday, October 14th from 6-7pm PDT. We will honor five outstanding individuals whose work compliments Western Center’s mission, and there will be a special A-list musical performance just for attendees! It’s virtual, so join from anywhere. Get details and tickets here.


Accessing Health Care During a Disaster

California is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, but it’s also home to disasters that will likely increase as our climate changes. Disasters often cause immediate chaos and create significant burdens in the aftermath, including obtaining health care.

Survivors of disasters have a right to get health care when, where, and how they need it. Unfortunately, they might have to fight for it. Western Center’s health care advocates created a practice tip for accessing health care after a disaster.

Due to ongoing wildfires and future disasters, survivors may need extra assistance to access health care. Fortunately, several protections help survivors access the services, supplies, and care that they need.

Read the full tip for detailed information about special rights and remedies available to survivors seeking prescription drugs, medical supplies and equipment, physician and specialist care, eligibility and coverage, health plan enrollment changes, and more. In the meantime, here are a few important points to know when trying to access health care in the wake of disaster:

Whether survivors are insured or uninsured, rights and resources exist to help replace prescription drugs, as well as medical supplies and equipment lost or destroyed during disasters. 

  • Uninsured survivors can access prescription drugs and supplies via the Emergency Prescription Assistance Program, which provides free refills with a prescription at participating pharmacies. To locate a participating pharmacy, call 855-793-7470 or click here.
  • Insured survivors can contact their prescribing providers, pharmacies, and/or managed care plans to request refills and replacements.
  • Medi-Cal Dental: Removable dental appliances may be replaced under special expedited procedures (i.e. retainers, space maintainers, partial and full dentures, and joint appliances). Claims for these appliances, exams, and radiographs should not require prior authorization, and limitations should not apply.
  • FEMA Other Needs Assistance provides grants for “necessary expenses and serious needs” caused by the disaster including medical and dental expenses not covered by primary health insurance, including if insurance denies or excludes coverage, or the survivor is uninsured. Apply for FEMA benefits at Disaster Recovery Centers, (800) 621-3362, or online. Contact the California Disaster Legal Assistance Collaborative for more information.

Survivors may need access to care and medical appointments urgently during and after a disaster. Several protections require health plans and providers to make care available.

  • Emergency care: Federal law prohibits hospitals from turning away pregnant people in labor and patients facing emergency medical conditions—no matter their insurance status.
  • Dialysis: Patients should first contact their regular dialysis center for help locating a replacement center.
  • If contracted providers are unavailable after a disaster, Medi-Cal managed care plans must still provide adequate provider networks, including by authorizing out-of-network care if no providers are available in network.
  • Medicare Advantage Plans must allow members to access out-of-network care after “a Presidential emergency declaration, a Presidential (major) disaster declaration, a declaration of emergency or disaster by a Governor, or an announcement of a public health emergency by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.”

During and after a disaster, survivors may need help applying for Medi-Cal and Covered California, or just keeping their existing coverage.

  • Many disaster survivors may be newly eligible for Medi-Cal due to job loss and/or reduction in earnings. They may obtain expedited Medi-Cal.
  • Starting July 1, 2021, many people can get immediate full coverage when they apply for Medi-Cal at CoveredCA.com or by phone at (800) 300-1506. After a disaster, Medi-Cal application requirements are less restrictive. You can apply for Medi-Cal at any time.
  • County welfare offices must continue to provide Medi-Cal eligibility services during and after disasters “without delay.” This includes in-person assistance during regular business hours, plus telephonic and internet access for Medi-Cal applications and renewals.
  • A declared state of emergency in California gives affected individuals a special enrollment period to enroll in Covered California for 60 days after the date of the declaration of state of emergency.

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Note: This resource is for current and future disasters in 2021 and beyond. For the latest rules on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, please visit the Health Consumer Alliance’s website, which is kept current with evolving pandemic rules. If you or someone you know needs assistance accessing any of these benefits, please call the Health Consumer Alliance at 888-804-3536 for free, confidential assistance.

Power outages hit some of state’s poorest communities hard

PG&E’s unprecedented blackouts over the past month have hit especially hard in some of Northern California’s poorest communities, stripping electricity from hundreds of thousands of people who can least afford to be without it, according to state data reviewed by The Chronicle.

…Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said prolonged outages can create a domino effect. Businesses close and people lose their paychecks. Schools or day cares close and people are forced to pay more for child care, or meals that would ordinarily be served at school. Those increased and unexpected costs can threaten a family’s ability to pay for rent or medical needs.

“Disaster is hard for anyone to get through, but it could be the last straw for people living in poverty,” Bartholow said.

Read more