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Covered California Extends Enrollment Window To Cover More People During Coronavirus Pandemic

This undated photo provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows CDC's laboratory test kit for the new coronavirus.

Medi-Cal, California's low-income health program, is extending its renewal period so people don’t get bumped off their coverage, and Covered California, the state’s individual insurance exchange, is taking new sign-ups until the end of June, instead of the end of April.

State health leaders announced the changes Friday. It’s part of a broader push to get everyone insured, so they have coverage in case they need health care during the COVID-19 crisis. There are thousands of Californians who’ve lost their jobs, and possibly their job-based health coverage, due to the threat of the virus. 

Dozens of stories have emerged about U.S. patients facing large hospital billsfor testing, treatment and monitoring related to coronavirus. California health leaders announced today that they’re waiving all co-pays for COVID-19 testing.

“All medically necessary screening and testing for COVID-19 is free of charge, whether in Medi-Cal or in the commercial market,” Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee said. “This includes telehealth or doctor’s visits as well as network emergency room or urgent visits when necessary for screening and testing.” 

Anthony Wright, executive director of consumer group Health Access, said that California’s roughly 3 million uninsured residents should act now to get covered if they’re eligible.

“Having a health system with millions of people left uninsured was bad to begin with, but it’s downright dangerous during a public health emergency,” he said in a statement. “In order to get tested and screened you should call your doctor, but that presumes you have a doctor or usual source of care.”

Here are some takeaways for people exploring their insurance options during the COVID-19 crisis.

Who is eligible for the special enrollment periods and when do they close?

Covered California sign-ups were supposed to end on March 30 for those who wanted insurance starting April 1, and April 30 for coverage starting May 1. 

Anyone who is income-eligible can sign up now, and their benefits will kick in at the start of next month. Covered California has extended the enrollment deadline to June 30 to accommodate people looking for coverage during the COVID-19 crisis. People in certain income brackets may be eligible for federal and state-provided premium assistance. 

Medi-Cal already offers year-round sign-ups for people below the designated income threshold. Medi-Cal members must renew their coverage annually or risk losing their benefits.

“In order to ensure individuals stay on their Medi-Cal services, we are delaying those renewals so that they can still have coverage during this vulnerable time,” said state Medicaid Director Jacey Cooper.

Will testing be free for undocumented immigrants

Coronavirus testing will be free to undocumented immigrants whether they have insurance or not, health leaders said. 

Undocumented immigrants in California can enroll in restricted scope Medi-Cal, which primarily covers emergency and pregnancy care. Young adults under age 26 are now eligible for full scope Medi-Cal, regardless of immigration status. 

Lee said all undocumented immigrants will be able to access free coronavirus testing, when it becomes available, at clinics and hospitals that serve low-income individuals regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay.

“Access to testing will have no financial burdens or barriers for any person in California, and the testing sites that are being throughout the state are being mindful of exactly that,” he said. 

How much does COVID-19 treatment cost?

The costs of being treated for COVID-19 in a hospital will greatly vary depending on your level of insurance coverage and where you seek care. 

An analysis by the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that for people with job-based coverage, costs could exceed $20,000, with employees being asked to pay up to $1,500. The costs are comparable to patients who enter the hospital with pneumonia and require intensive care, including intubation and ventilation. 

What relief is there for Californians struggling to pay monthly health bills during the economic downturn?

Federal policies allow Covered California enrollees who receive financial subsidies to keep their insurance for three months, even if they have stopped paying their premiums. That’s about 85 percent of those with coverage through the exchange, according to the San Francisco Marin Medical Society. 

State and federal lawmakers are currently looking at proposals that could help those experiencing economic stress due to the pandemic stay afloat.

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