Thousands of Santa Barbara County Residents at Risk of Losing Medi-Cal Coverage
Up to Three Million Californians Could Lose Health Insurance by Failing to Respond to Annual Questionnaire
Up to three million Californians could lose Medi-Cal coverage, but not because they are no longer eligible. Many are expected to lose coverage simply because the California Department of Health Care Services cannot reach them.
“The quickest and easiest way to ensure continuous coverage is to visit cencalhealth
.org/keep and update your information as soon as possible,” said Van Do-Reynoso of CenCal, which is Santa Barbara County’s Medi-Cal administrator. The agency estimates that 30,000-60,000 members in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties could lose coverage by the end of the year by not responding to the annual questionnaire.
The pandemic years saw historically high enrollment in Medi-Cal, as the federal government suspended the yearly eligibility process in order to keep health care available to as many people as possible. Now, with the pandemic largely in the rearview mirror, CenCal has begun rolling out the annual packages that determine Central Coast residents’ eligibility.
Do-Reynoso, who guided the county through the pandemic as the director of Public Health before joining CenCal, explained that those at highest at risk for losing coverage are people who’ve moved since the beginning of the pandemic, are not fluent in English, do not have a permanent address, or have never been through the re-evaluation process before.
“We know many of our members have limited English proficiency, and may not understand the requirements of the package,” said Do-Reynoso. “We are also anticipating that those with language barriers may experience gaps in coverage despite still being eligible for it.”
Medi-Cal is only one type of insurance that people could qualify for, said Do-Reynoso. They may be able to enter health-care coverage through an employer or Covered California — the state’s adaptation of Obamacare. Undocumented residents, however, would not be included in Covered California.
The Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics provide comprehensive services to community members, regardless of their ability to pay, but most of the doctors and nurses’ insured patients are covered by CenCal. The clinics are expecting immense financial strain if too many of the patients are unable to renew their insurance.
“We will never say no. We are always going to keep seeing patients, but this means we have to eat the cost of those who visit,” said the clinics’ executive director, Mahdi Ashrafian. He acknowledged the barriers his patients face; many simply lack the time and resources to fill out the paperwork and drop it off. But he worried about medical emergencies: “We never know what will happen tomorrow,” Ashrafian said. “We want to make sure we have healthy communities and healthy people.”
Some of the information requested in the Medi-Cal redetermination package are updates about income, disabilities, and family size. Upon receiving the package in the mail, recipients have 60 days to provide the requested information.
The Medi-Cal package goes to the last known address on file. Any recipients whose name, mailing address, phone number, or email address have changed since the beginning of the pandemic are advised to update information. This can be done through the local Department of Social Services, and through CenCal at cencalhealth.org/keep. This process can be done over the phone, online, by fax, or in person.