Thirteen months into Affordable Care Act enrollment, the number of MediCal patients has surged 37 percent in Santa Barbara County with 29,400 new clients joining the program. County agencies, according to Maria Gardner, deputy director of the Department of Social Services, had projected enrolling between 25,000 and 40,000 new MediCal clients over a three-year period and have thus experienced an “incredibly busy year”; more than double the 29,400 new enrollees submitted applications. Her department, Gardner said, has been in “a constant hiring and training cycle” for more enrollment counselors — whose salaries are paid for with federal and state dollars — who have been accruing overtime hours in handling all of the applications. Further increases are forecast because open enrollment for Covered California started last week, Gardner added.
Prior to the law’s implementation, County Public Health served 13,000 MediCal patients. Since it went into effect, that figure has jumped to 19,000, said Dan Reid, who oversees the department’s division of primary care and family health. The expanded enrollment has benefited patients who previously paid out-of-pocket, a demographic Reid said has decreased to 13 percent. Hiring enough new doctors to see the increased number of patients has proved to be a bit of a bumpy road, Reid said, stating that a clinic in Santa Maria had to briefly stop accepting patients earlier this year. Public Health — which serves 30,000 clients overall and operates five centers and three satellite offices at homeless shelters — has since hired two new providers and is recruiting for a third. Whether more will be needed, Reid said, will hinge on the next wave of new enrollees.
Reid noted that the explosion of new patients has coincided with a shift from people seeking medical help when ill to scheduling preventative checkups. Similarly significant shifts have occurred among the demographics covered by MediCal, Gardner said, noting that the new figures have provided officials with a “stronger sense of what the face of MediCal is today.” Countywide, while the percentage of children has decreased from 58 percent in 2013 to 51 percent in 2014, the numbers have jumped respectively for adults. A slightly bigger chunk of the county’s MediCal pie is now going to South County residents, although North County residents still account for 53 percent of those covered. And the number of enrollees who are English-speaking versus Spanish-speaking has increased from 54 percent to 62 percent, Gardner said.