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Medi-Cal Providers Prepare For Surge In Enrollees Driven By Coronavirus Unemployment

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The state is also preparing for a potential avalanche of Medi-Cal enrollees. Tom Magliery/Flickr CC
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As unemployment balloons, health insurers are working to manage an expected surge of new applicants to Medi-Cal, the state’s public health insurance program that provides coverage to low-income people.

John Baackes, CEO of L.A. Care Health Plan — the largest publicly operated health plan in the U.S. — estimates that 1.5 million to 3 million people will sign up for Medi-Cal before the end of the month.

“We’re looking at over a 10% to over a 20% increase in enrollment,” he said.

That's on top of nearly 13 million Californians already enrolled in Medi-Cal.

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In response, L.A. Care Health Plan is adding more doctors to its network as quickly as possible. Baackes said they will rely heavily on telehealth to keep administrative costs down. He expects the new enrollees will only be temporarily on Medi-Cal.

“We assume these people will be a bulge in our enrollment, that over time as the recovery from the recession occurs, these people will go back to employment and get their health insurance through employment,” he said. “But they could be with us for a year or two.”

DOCTORS IN FINANCIAL STRAITS

Many primary care physicians and other health care providers may have halted or sharply reduced their practice due to coronavirus restrictions. L.A. Care Health Plan is considering providing advance payments or loans to providers but is waiting to see what the next federal relief package looks like, assuming there is one.

The California Department of Health Care Services, which runs Medi-Cal, is also trying to expedite applications for senior citizens and other populations considered vulnerable to COVID-19.

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In March, the state of California put a 90-day hold on reviews of Medi-Cal renewals to make sure that individuals who are already enrolled can continue with their coverage. The move also freed up state workers to process the anticipated new enrollments that will come during this period.

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