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Medi-Cal Expansion: Some Barriers For Low-Income Residents Removed

 June 30, 2021 at 11:29 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 The California budget process is coming to a close as the governor and lawmakers. Hurry to finalize last minute bills. The new fiscal year begins tomorrow. One deal that's already been struck as an expansion of the state's Medi-Cal program. The expanded coverage will remove the asset rule. That's played some senior Medi-Cal enrollees and expand Medi-Cal to low income undocumented immigrants over the age of 50 the budget projects, the yearly cost of the expansion at over $107 million, but it's a fraction of the $76 billion budget surplus California has announced. And joining me is Cal matters, reporter Ana Ybarra, and on a welcome to the Speaker 2: 00:45 Thanks for having me, Maureen Speaker 1: 00:47 Was the asset rule that barred some people from receiving benefits. Speaker 2: 00:53 Yeah, so the ad's a rule that applies to seniors and people with disabilities as an individual cannot have more than $2,000 on hand that's in addition to meeting the income eligibility or the income threshold to qualify for the program. So that means $2,000 in a savings account, um, in a checkings account in cash. And so that rule has been in place since 1989 and it hasn't changed. Right? And so health advocates have called this role very outdated because obviously the cost of living has changed since 1989 and $2,000 really doesn't allow people to save up for much, which means in order to keep their Medi-Cal eligibility, people are spending down. Speaker 1: 01:39 You tell the story of a 73 year old Medi-Cal recipient who, before this expansion took place, had a hide, a small unexpected inheritance. Speaker 2: 01:50 Yeah, so she came across a $5,000 when a family member passed away and she was excited to put that in her savings account because she really hadn't been able to save up much. And when she learned that if she kept those $5,000 in her bank account, she would not qualify for Medi-Cal anymore. She had to spend it and she, you know, she'd really didn't want to, um, she ended up, uh, buying a new bed that she needed, which, you know, she said was, again, she needed it, but she rather keep that money, uh, you know, in, in case of an emergency. But, but she couldn't do that. She had to spend it. And, you know, a few months later she really was in need of it. Speaker 1: 02:31 No that people who qualified for Medicare could still receive Medi-Cal benefits. How does Medi-Cal supplement their healthcare? Speaker 2: 02:39 Yes. So seniors who qualify for Medicare, if they are low income, they can also qualify for free Medi-Cal. The state often calls them Medi Medi. And, um, these are, uh, this medical helps those people because there are still certain costs that, um, Medicare will not cover. So for example, the woman I spoke to, she has some pricey medication, um, that she needs covered and Medicare doesn't cover it all. So that's when it Medi-Cal comes in and takes care of the rest. Um, so this helps people, you know, um, cover the cover, the costs not covered by, by their, by their Medicare insurance, Speaker 1: 03:15 The expansion and the new state budget also allows people over the age of 50 living in the state illegally to receive Medi-Cal benefits. Medi-Cal has been covering more undocumented people in recent years, hasn't it? Speaker 2: 03:30 Yes, it has. So, uh, in 2016, the state started covering all undocumented children. And then in 2020, it started covering, um, young adults up to the age of 26. So this is the, the latest expansion, uh, 50 anyone, 50 and over, regardless of their immigration status. This is also the, um, the, I believe that the biggest group, so about 250,000, uh, people would qualify under this expansion or become newly eligible for Medi-Cal. And they're also one thing to know there they're also the most expensive group, right? We know that older people have more healthcare needs, uh, you know, kids and young adults are, tend to be pretty healthy. Uh, but seniors that's, that's going to be the, the, um, the bigger expense for the state. The state has allocated in their budget deal. Uh, $1.3 billion to, to cover them, Speaker 1: 04:27 Has the pandemic led to an increase in the number of people getting their healthcare through Medi-Cal Speaker 2: 04:33 It has. So we know that the medical role has increased by about 1 million people. Uh, I'm comparing March, 2020 to March, 2021. Um, that's the latest data available? Um, so the, the need for Medi-Cal has grown, um, possibly because people are losing jobs or losing, um, uh, hours losing wages. Um, but one thing to know is that during the pandemic, the state cannot kick people off Medi-Cal. So we know that the, usually there is a turnover, right? So people are in and out of the program. Um, when people, for example, that they have to, um, show their eligibility or show that they're eligible every year, they have to renew their, their medical applications. And this time around, uh, even if people aren't renewing, they can't get kicked off the program because of the emergency pandemic situation. So that's also adding, uh, you know, people are coming in, but not as many people are coming out of the program. Speaker 1: 05:34 Healthcare advocates must be very happy about the expanded benefits in the new budget. Just a while ago, they were concerned about cuts to Medi-Cal Lauren. Okay. Speaker 2: 05:44 They were so after, you know, after the recession, um, in 2007, 2008, a lot of programs got cut and slowly, you know, they've been getting those programs back and I'm talking about things like dental and other optional benefits, like eye glasses and, and podiatry. And so those were, those are things known as optional benefits because the states are not required to, to cover them, but they can. And so California did, and those were cut during the last recession. And so they, like I said, they slow the bank coming back, but last year, you know, because the state was, um, looking at a, at a potential deficit with, with the pandemic, they were worried that those optional benefits would be cut again. And last year they, they stayed in place, but any planned expansions, um, were not allowed or did not happen. So, you know, from being worried last year, that they might lose some of the programs to, you know, now being able to expand, um, because of, you know, the seven to six $76 billion surplus in the budget. That's a big, uh, 180 for them as, as one advocate explained it. Um, so it's, it's definitely, um, turned things have turned around Speaker 1: 07:02 In the larger picture of California health care. Why does this expansion of Medi-Cal matter? Speaker 2: 07:08 Right? So this matters because a, that the biggest chunk of California's uninsured population are, are undocumented people. So being able to cover, you know, a quarter of a million people, um, that's, that helps California really reduced its uninsured rate. And, you know, we know that, you know, as more people become covered that just helps with costs, but also creates a, uh, just a healthier population. Overall, Speaker 1: 07:40 I've been speaking with Cal matters, reporter Ana Ybarra, and Ana, thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

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The new budget removes the asset rule that restricted eligibility for older and disabled Californians.
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