California Health Coverage Advocates Provide Practical and Policy Advice During COVID- 19 Pandemic

As Californians adjust to new public health safeguards in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, here is a statement on practical advice for consumers and proposals for policymakers on care and coverage options from Anthony Wright, executive director, Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition:
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CONTACT:
Rachel Linn Gish, Health Access California, rlinngish@health-access.org, 916-532-2128 (cell)

CALIFORNIA HEALTH COVERAGE ADVOCATES PROVIDE PRACTICAL AND POLICY ADVICE DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC

  • Public Health Emergency Reveals Significant Gaps in Our Health System and Social Safety Net
  • Uninsured Californians Do Have Options: Medi-Cal, Covered California Special Enrollment, County Programs, Community Clinics, and Hospital Financial Assistance/Charity Care
  • Even Californians With Coverage Should Know/Demand Their Rights, Including on Screening/Testing Without Co-Payment, No Surprise Billing, Etc.
  • New DHCS and DMHC Guidance Helps With Connecting Californians With Care
  • Advocates Urge Passage of Congressional Coronavirus Package Proposed by House, and Additional Health Coverage Expansions; Urge Reversal of Trump Administration Attacks on Coverage and Safety Net

SACRAMENTO, CA – As Californians adjust to new public health safeguards in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, here is a statement on practical advice for consumers and proposals for policymakers on care and coverage options from Anthony Wright, executive director, Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition:

OVERALL: “The public health emergency created by COVID-19 is highlighting the significant gaps in our health system, and in our larger social safety net. We can’t properly respond to a pandemic when millions are uninsured, and many more are underinsured or without a regular source of care. We must make immediate investments and improvements in our health system and safety net programs to help our communities weather this storm, and continue to pursue the broader reforms needed so we are better prepared for the next pandemic.”

THE CONGRESSIONAL PACKAGE: “We urge immediate passage of the key priorities proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives to provide needed support for the coronavirus pandemic. Americans need comprehensive paid sick leave policies to help prevent the virus from spreading. We need to strengthen our safety net—from unemployment insurance to housing and food assistance—for those impacted by the economic fallout. States will need additional Medicaid money, rather than the Trump Administration’s counterproductive efforts to cut and cap the program, and otherwise restrict people from the care and coverage.”

THE UNINSURED: “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. In order to get tested and screened you should call your doctor, but that presumes you have a doctor or usual source of care. Around three million Californians are uninsured, and the state should take further steps to expand access and affordability to this population. More people may lose coverage through lost hours or employment, so securing and expanding health coverage is more crucial now than ever.

“Uninsured Californians should explore their options for care, especially at this moment. Many uninsured Californians are eligible but unaware they qualify for Medi-Cal, or Covered California, or for county-based programs. For those who are uninsured, our patchwork system is problematic, but it can be navigated to find a public program, a community clinic, or a hospital charity care program that can help connect you with the care you need. In this public health crisis, Californians should not let their insurance status get in the way of getting needed testing or treatment.”

MEDI-CAL: “Medi-Cal is a lifeline for not just the 13 million Californians who get their coverage through it now, but for those who may lose income and coverage in the coming months. Many people in the hospitality, convention, sports, arts, and other sectors will find themselves without a job and coverage, and options like Medi-Cal and Covered California can help. Medi-Cal enrollment is open year-round and we encourage those eligible to sign-up as soon as possible.”

COVERED CALIFORNIA: “Fortuitously, Covered California is currently open for special enrollment through April 2020. For Californians not eligible for Medi-Cal, Covered California can provide many options for affordable coverage. The costs may be lower than you thought as new state subsidies are now available to reduce premiums for Californians who make up $75,000 per year, or up to $150,000 per year for a family of four. Additional affordability assistance proposed this year would help bring more people into care with less out-of-pocket costs, prioritizing prevention in the midst of this pandemic.”

#HEALTH4ALL: “Public programs should not exclude any group, including immigrants, from primary and preventive care, particularly in a public health situation like this. We will not successfully combat coronavirus if our immigrant communities are concerned about seeking needed care, getting tested, and getting a bill afterward. Governor Newsom was prescient in recommending that income-eligible seniors be included in Medi-Cal regardless of immigration status. We need to accelerate that expansion to take care of our seniors, who are a high risk group that will absolutely need care and coverage at this time, for themselves and the hospitals that are serving them. Our health care system is stronger when everyone is included, getting screened, tested, and treated, as soon as possible.”

RIGHTS WITH COVERAGE: “We appreciate state leaders like Governor Newsom and Insurance Commissioner Lara for directing health plans to have zero cost sharing for screening and testing. We hope that federally-regulated plans, including self-insured employers, follow the lead of the Department of Managed Health Care in putting patient protections in place. California has sought to stop surprise medical bills, ensure access to medically necessary treatments in a timely manner, and more. California’s consumer protections efforts are critical, but we will need additional action at the state and federal level to ensure people have the rights to get the care they need.”

EQUITY: “This pandemic will hit certain California communities hardest. Those who are disadvantaged due to chronic health conditions, housing insecurity, age, income, immigration status, and more will need to be of greater focus in our outreach and prevention efforts. The state’s response must address health equity concerns by making sure that public health messaging includes information about affected groups and communities in languages and contexts they understand, directing additional funding to community health centers that serve disproportionately impacted communities and partnering with trusted messengers to share information.”

“The California LGBTQ Health and Human Services Network, a program of Health Access, provides an example: LGBTQ Californians are at increased vulnerability for COVID-19 due to higher rates of tobacco use and chronic health conditions such as HIV, cancer, and diabetes and are less likely than the general population to access health care when needed. Californians that currently use tobacco products and want to decrease their chances of COVID-19 respiratory illnesses can get help by contacting the California Smokers’ Helpline at 1-800-No-Butts or by visiting NoButts.org.”

THE NEXT PANDEMIC: “Ultimately, to prepare for the next pandemic we need a universal health system focused on prevention and public health, rather than profit. Until then:

  • “Congress needs to act to provide the resources to both slow the spread of the coronavirus and provide the social safety net supports for those dislocated by it through both health and economic impacts.
  • “The Trump Administration needs to stop its legal and administrative attacks on our health system in general. Cutting or capping Medicaid, or otherwise discouraging people from getting care or coverage because of their work or immigration status, is entirely counterproductive to the public health goals of stopping the spread of this pandemic.
  • “California needs to continue its path to expand coverage and affordability assistance, and take other steps administratively and legislatively to ensure the access, affordability, and sustainability of our health system. Setting up systems now, from a new health payments database to new Office of Health Care Affordability, will help California have a sustainable system ready for the future and potentially next pandemic.”

Resources:

DMHC All-Plan March 5, 2020 Letter: COVID-19 Screening and Testing

DHCS All-County Director March 12, 2020 Letter: Enrollment and Redeterminations Reminders During a Public Health Crisis

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