New CA Bill Helps Connect Unemployed Californians to Health Coverage

For Immediate Release: Friday February 19, 2021

Rachel Linn Gish, director of communications, Health Access California,, 916-532-2128 (cell)


Losing your job should not mean losing health care insurance

SACRAMENTO, CA – The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented job loss and drops in income, and with that a loss in job-based health care coverage. Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), most Californians without employer coverage can enroll in health insurance through Medi-Cal or Covered California, both which provide help in paying for coverage depending on income. Despite significant job loss as a result of the pandemic, both Medi-Cal and Covered California have experienced lower-than-expected enrollment, particularly among communities of color. Keeping Californians covered requires proactive efforts to ensure that they are aware of their options.

SB 644 introduced today by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D – Chino) and co-authored by Assemblymember David Chiu (D – San Francisco), will allow the Employment Development Department (EDD) to share information with Covered California for the purpose of connecting Californians facing job or income loss to their health care options. The bill is sponsored by the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, Health Access California, and Western Center on Law & Poverty.

“I introduced SB 644 to improve the ability of Californians—regardless of their employment status—to have access to affordable health care,” said Senator Leyva, author of SB 644. “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need to close the gap in care so that all Californians are able to receive the health care that they or their family need.”

EDD reports that amid the pandemic, 1.3 million more Californians filed unemployment insurance, with women, people of color, younger, and less educated workers experiencing disproportionate rates of job loss. Loss of job-based health coverage can exacerbate health disparities and lead to poorer health outcomes from COVID-19 related illness or delayed care.

“Historically, people of color, women, and immigrants face the worst job losses during economic upheaval and that continues to be the case with COVID-19. These are the same communities who are most likely to be uninsured due to systemic racism and cultural and linguistic barriers to accessing care. We are proud to co-sponsor this bill as it will help to reverse health inequities by ensuring these vulnerable and underserved communities know their options and can avoid gaps in health care coverage at a time when it is most needed,” said Kiran Savage-Sangwan, executive director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network.

Providing Covered California with contact information for unemployment applicants would allow them to conduct proactive, targeted outreach to those who are likely to benefit from learning about coverage options and how to sign up for Covered California or Medi-Cal. This would include not only those who qualify for unemployment, but also those who apply and are ineligible, such as gig workers, those with insufficient hours, or those in the underground economy.

“Californians should not face any barriers to accessing quality, affordable health care, during a pandemic and beyond,” said Diana Douglas, Policy and Legislative Advocate for Health Access California. “Keeping Californians covered helps consumers avoid costly and dangerous gaps in their care, and ensures patients will seek care when needed, which is essential to getting us all out of this pandemic sooner.”

Covered California already does extensive marketing and outreach in multiple languages. Their robust enrollment program includes community-based navigators who offer culturally and linguistically appropriate assistance.

“California’s unemployment rate has gone up, but Covered California and Medi-Cal enrollment has not increased proportionately. That’s especially dangerous for communities hard hit by COVID and unemployment,” said Jen Flory, policy advocate for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “People need health care no matter what, and dealing with unemployment is hard enough, we’re just asking the state to take one more step that could get thousands of Californians insured.”



SB 644 (Leyva) Sponsor Fact Sheet