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State Mistakenly Drops Medi-Cal Coverage For Some Low-Income Californians

Doc patient stethescope - Anne Wernikoff CalMatters.jpg
Anne Wernikoff
A doctor listens to a man's heart beat at a clinic in Bieber, California on July 23, 2019.

An error involving the state’s automated system for Medi-Cal renewals triggered at least some of the drops in coverage, despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders that recipients remain on the rolls during the coronavirus crisis.

As the coronavirus continues to sicken Californians, the state mistakenly terminated or reduced health insurance benefits for thousands of low-income people.

An error involving the state’s Medi-Cal program and its automated system for renewals triggered the drops in coverage— despite the governor’s executive order earlier this year that was supposed to ensure that people maintain access to safety net programs during the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the California Department of Health Care Services, which oversees the Medi-Cal program, the state’s version of Medicaid, said on Tuesday it is still assessing how many people may have been affected. But it has sent notices to 200,000 people. The department says some benefits have already been restored.

Medi-Cal provides health insurance to about 12.5 million low-income Californians.

Health advocates and attorneys who are helping affected people restore coverage say cutting people off Medi-Cal is especially risky during a public health crisis.

“This means some can’t get their prescriptions refilled or access crucial care,” said David Kane, an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

In some instances, people were not aware their Medi-Cal was inactive until they were at a pharmacy or urgent care clinic, according to several attorneys.

In mid-March, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that should have allowed enrollees to continue receiving safety net benefits and services, including Medi-Cal, without interruption for 90 days. That order was then extended more recently.

“These social safety net programs are so important for families — especially during this crisis,” Newsom said in announcing his original order. “We don’t want Californians who rely on these services to lose them.”

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.