While COVID-19 is still around, most of the emergency declarations and special provisions that attended the last three years are winding down – and for anyone whose health insurance comes from Medi-Cal, that means filing paperwork to keep your coverage.
Before the pandemic, people covered by Medi-Cal, which insures low-income families, normally had to provide information every year to ensure they were still eligible. But federal legislation in 2020 allowed states to put that annual process on hold to keep people from losing their insurance during a widespread public health emergency.
Now it’s starting again, and it will likely affect thousands of Long Beach residents, who need to make sure the county social services office has their current address – and if they get a health insurance renewal form in a yellow envelope, to complete it and turn it in.
Los Angeles County started processing renewals April 1, but Karla Lee Romero, who is director of Medi-Cal product management for L.A. Care, said everyone’s renewal date is different, and it could take 14 months to get through all members. (L.A. Care is the largest public health plan for Medi-Cal eligible residents of the county.)
“We are trying to raise awareness and not panic,” said Phinney Ahn, L.A. Care’s executive director of Medi-Cal. “What we’re trying to avoid is any disruptions in care.”
L.A. Care covers about 106,000 people in Long Beach, according to a spokeswoman for the health plan. A small number Medi-Cal recipients will get automatically re-enrolled, but L.A. Care is estimating up to 13% of its members could face disenrollment.
Staff at L.A. Care have been trying to get the word out to people since before April 1, and Ahn said they’re stressing four points:
- Make sure the county social services department has up-to-date contact information so you’ll get any information you need or forms to fill out;
- You can make changes, get information and fill out renewal forms online at www.benefitscal.com;
- Check the mail for a renewal packet in a yellow envelope;
- And if you receive a packet, fill it out.
They’ve also heard of people being asked to pay to renew their coverage, which Medi-Cal providers don’t do. “Watch out for scammers – there is no cost to renew your Medi-Cal,” Ahn said.
Romero said L.A. Care has used social media, a text message campaign and robocalls to let people know the renewal process has restarted. They’re also about to roll out more traditional marketing like bus shelter ads, and they’re partnering with several public agencies offer some in-person help navigating the paperwork.
People can also call the L.A. County Department of Public Social Services at 866-613-3777 for help, but the Los Angeles Times recently reported callers are encountering extremely long wait times.
Not losing health coverage can be especially challenging for people who move often or don’t have a computer, like the clients Imelda Bealer works with at Long Beach’s Lutheran Social Services.
Bealer said some of the people she helps are homeless or have been moving between shelters and interim housing, and they may not have a computer, email address or cell phone.
“When they lose coverage, they’re not able to see their doctors,” she said. “There’s just a lot of figuring out right now as far as the forms” they need to fill out.
Ahn said if people miss their packet and get disenrolled from Medi-Cal, or if their circumstances have changed and they no longer qualify, they still have options.
Those who lose coverage but are still eligible have a 90-day window in which they can apply to restart their insurance, and L.A. Care is working to connect people to other health plans if a new job or other life change means they earn too much to get Medi-Cal.
And L.A. Care has a community resource center in Wilmington, but Long Beach residents will soon have a closer option for help: The insurer is opening a resource center at 5599 Atlantic Ave. in North Long Beach on June 9.