A Kiss for the LIHPs on Valentine’s Day,

Today, Valentine’s Day, Tuesday, February 14th, community groups gathered in coalition across the state, in Coachella, Los Angeles, Richmond, Sacramento, and San Jose to highlight the early progress in expanding coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

In particular, the events, including Health Access California, ACCE, PICO California, and California Partnership, helped spread the word about Low Income Health Programs, a little-known new coverage program that promises to have a big impact, covering many of the uninsured and bringing in new federal matching funds to counties across California.

Why? For Valentine’s Day, over a quarter million Californians may want to say how much they love these Low-Income Health Programs (LIHPs), bringing in federal dollars to expand coverage to most counties in California, and serving as a ‘bridge to health reform.’ These county-based health plans are getting more people covered, and earlier than the rest of the nation. These plans bring in new federal matching funds, creating economic benefits, investments in our safety net, and a healthier group of patients. What’s not to love?

The Low Income Health Program or LIHP is made possible by the Affordable Care Act’s Medi-Cal expansion and the state’s 1115 Medicaid waiver between the state and federal government. Currently, Medi-Cal does not cover adults with no dependent children, even if they are under the poverty line. While the Affordable Care Act changes that in 2014, the early expansion of coverage through LIHPs will allow over a half a million Californians to take advantage of expanded coverage options prior 2014.

LIHP is a county option, which most counties are taking advantage of in order to provide health care for the uninsured in a more effective and less expensive manner. LIHP requires counties to care for enrollees using a medical home model, and providing a wide spectrum of care, similar to Medi-Cal, rather than just providing emergency and urgent care.

Some recent reports indicate reasons for celebration:

* Ten large urban counties started their LIHP enrollment in last July, and by the end of 2011, had already enrolled a quarter million uninsured Californians into coverage, according to recently-released numbers.
* Earlier in the month, Alameda County, which began its program in July 2011, became the first county to meet its enrollment target.
* At the beginning of this year, 37 additional counties have begun enrollment as well. Additional counties are slated to start sometime in the first half of 2012.

The community groups are working to convince every county to seize the opportunity under the new federal law, and to aggressively take advantage of the federal funds available under the Low-Income Health Program. It helps the families, the county, the economy, the safety net—and it helps all of us get ready for reform in 2014.

The program brings new federal matching dollars into local economies and health systems, and experts estimate these dollars will create thousands of jobs statewide. The UC Berkeley Labor Center projects that LIHP will have a direct impact on the creation of health care jobs as well as indirect impact, growing jobs in other sectors as more money comes into counties.

Community groups are hoping to help get the word out that this program is available in most California counties, and to encourage other counties to get involved, and people to know about this new option and to get enrolled.

At the Sacramento event, Pastor Charles Warner of the Christ Temple Apostolic Church spoke of the importance of providing health care to the community, and several uninsured and formerly uninsured individuals shared their personal stories at all of the events, and in Los Angeles, Shari Doi of the LA Department of Health Services explained that this desperate need for health coverage is the reason Los Angeles County has made such an aggressive effort at outreach and enrollment.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.