By Kimetha Hill
Contributing Writer

In California almost 730,000 children are uninsured. And about two thirds of those children are eligible right now for existing insurance. The CalFresh “Express Lane Enrollment” spearheaded by the Children’s Partnership aims to do just that. “We’ve taken off nationally,” said Kristen Golden Testa, the California health program director of The Children’s Partnership, a national nonprofit organization. “Now our mission is trying to find them and enroll them.” As part of the Affordable Care Act, enrolling food stamp recipients into Medi-Cal has afforded a good chunk of eligible people to have health insurance.

Last Thursday, March 27, The Children’s Partnership in conjunction with New America Media hosted a telebriefing to inform attendees of CalFresh’s initiative to get more Californians insured.

“California has taken the option to use CalFresh, SNAP, and food stamps recipients and automatically enroll them into Medi-Cal. This could find 150 – 300,000 children who do not have Medi-Cal, but are on CalFresh and could enroll,” said Testa. She added that this would also include about 560,000 adults as well.

Eligible recipients were sent letters that were translated into 12 different languages, based on the data and demographics, which informed them of their eligibility into the Express program. On February 3, a round of letters was sent to the adult population and on February 21, eligible children’s letters were sent. Letters provided eligible recipients three ways to opt in; using a unique pin number displayed on the letter allowing enrollment through the website, over the phone or through the mail. In counties with more than one health plan available they also had a health plan selection letter included. Additionally, in-person enrollment is available through a county services agency. It is important to note that no application is necessary.

Crystal Haswell, chief of the outreach and enrollment unit under the Medi-Cal eligibility division of California’s Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), explains that a federal waiver now allows the department to use data on income, residency, and citizenship that is used to determine eligibility for CalFresh in order to enroll individuals in Medi-Cal. This option will be available through the end of 2015.

In the Express Lane, recipients will have eligibility for up to 12 months, after which they will go through a full Medi-Cal determination process, and their respective County would reach out to them to complete an application for determination.

By targeting adults between the ages of 19 and 64 year olds currently enrolled in CalFresh and who don’t have health coverage through medical, Medicare, or the low-income health program, DHCS was able to locate about 570,000 individuals. For children, targeting those under age 19 who are also enrolled in CalFresh and did not have coverage through Medi-Cal or Medicare, identified about 150,000; as well as parents of Medi-Cal children who currently are not in Medi-Cal.

But the main reason for the push to enroll as many eligible individuals as possible is because of the life-saving help insurance provides. Suzy Shupe, Executive Director of California Coverage & Health Initiatives provided a living example of the benefits to Express Lane enrollment.
“A woman wrote to us saying she was recently in the emergency room towards the end of February and she was very, very ill with a peritoncular absess which can be an extremely dangerous condition if not treated and it was extremely painful.” The woman was uninsured at the time and could not afford the medications she was prescribed. However she received a letter informing her of her immediate enrollment into Medi-Cal through the Express Lane program and was able to use the pin number located on the letter instantly to receive her medication.
“It’s exactly this kind of story that shows the value of the Express Lane because people who are in urgent need can’t wait,” said Shupe. “And being able to get quickly and efficiently enrolled into Medi-Cal when they’re eligible really changes their situation for the better.”

As of last week, more than 147,000 adults and more than 22,000 children have been enrolled as a result of the program, says Haswell.

For more information on this enrollment option, call 1-844-212-0003, or contact your county Medi-Cal office. Individuals who do not qualify for expedited enrollment can still see if they are eligible for Medi-Cal by visiting www.coveredca.com, calling 1-800-300-1506, or contacting their county Medi-Cal office.