by Mark Hedin, Ethnic Media Services
MediCal enrollees are encouraged to update their information to keep their status as the state reviews eligibility for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic.
For the first time in three years, an estimated 80 million Americans whose health care is through Medicaid will have their eligibility for it checked.
If you’re one of those people and live in California, keep an eye out for a yellow envelope appearing in your mailbox, state Department of Health Care Services officials said at an April 12 press briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services and California Black Media.
2020’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act required Medicaid programs nationwide to keep everyone enrolled during the COVID-19 public health emergency, suspending the “redetermination” process.
But with that emergency now considered over as of March 31, states have to confirm everyone’s eligibility again.
California’s Medicaid program, MediCal, is the country’s largest, serving about 15 million people – including 5.7 million children, 70% of them nonwhite. Over the next 14 months, the state will be reviewing accounts to make sure contact information is up to date and that everyone enrolled is still eligible.
The yellow envelopes that began going out earlier this month in the mail indicate that DHCS is requesting additional information. If you get one of those, DHCS Assistant Deputy Director Yingjia Huang said, reply within the deadline it states, usually about 45-60 days.
But people can also check their coverage status online and over the phone.
Huang also estimates that 30% of Medi-Cal recipients will receive notices that they’ve been automatically renewed for a year.
Health care for undocumented immigrants
On top of that, she noted, California has become the first state in the country to allow undocumented 26- to 49-year-olds to enroll in its Medicaid program.
Mayra Alvarez, Executive Director of Children’s Partnership, a national children’s advocacy agency, added that the state has extended its policy of providing “continuous coverage” for children up to 5 years old.
The full breadth of medical services on the table includes everything from typical medical and preventive care to dental care and prescription coverage.
You don’t have to indicate your citizenship status when applying for MediCal, Alvarez said, and furthermore, she explained, undocumented Californians also need not worry that using Medi-Cal will impact their applications for a green card under “public charge” rules, a widespread, long-standing fear.
New rules in late 2022 barred any past, current or future use of public safety net protections, such as Medicaid, but also including housing, food and tax credits, from being deemed a “public charge,” and jeopardizing immigration applications. Nor does signing up your child for benefits count against you.
2-3 million could lose benefits
Nonetheless, Huang said, the state expects between 2 million and 3 million Californians will lose their benefits, many others may become newly eligible.
People who have been hired at jobs where health insurance is included may lose their eligibility for MediCal. Others may now be earning enough that they will be shifted from Medi-Cal coverage to the Covered California program, which subsidizes people’s health care on a sliding scale.
“For families on Medi-Cal, it may have been a long time since they last renewed their coverage,” Alvarez noted.
She said that her biggest fear is that people who are still eligible for MedicaidCal will lose their coverage in this “unwinding” process, simply because the state can no longer find them.
“If, for example, a termination notice is sent to an old address, they may never get that information, and those who actually might still be eligible may end up losing their coverage. Families need to know that if they’ve moved since March 2020, they need to update their contact information,” she emphasized.
This “redetermination” won’t happen overnight, and the yellow envelope DHCS officials mentioned is only one of several ways to find out about your eligibility status.
You can also call or email your county office. The contact information for all 58 California counties can be found here. Or you can check on your account online. That page will direct you to one of two web pages, benefitscal.com, that applies to 45 California counties, or mybenefitscalwin.org/#/home for the other 13, where you can see if you’re eligible, apply for benefits, report changes and more.
On top of all that, Huang said, the DHCS is devoting “a huge budget” for partnerships with community-based organizations to hire trusted messengers in the community to augment its own 1,700 “coverage ambassadors” to help people get or stay insured.
Another thing to take into consideration is if there are new members of the family who hadn’t been born at the time of the last eligibility check, or if you’ve assumed new caretaking responsibilities.
“Now is the time to make sure we’re taking the necessary steps to keep our coverage,” Alvarez said. “Anybody, regardless of their immigration status, regardless of their income, can apply for MediCal.”
“This is especially important for people of color, who are more likely to rely on MediCal for coverage, and more likely to be at risk of losing that coverage.”
“It’s a lifeline for so many in our communities.”