Protecting Medi-Cal Coverage for Californians Act supporters advocate for continuous coverage for children up to five

By

Hannah Saunders

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Asm. Tasha Boerner (D-San Diego) sponsors Assembly Bill 2956 (the Protecting Medi-Cal Coverage for Californians Act), which has suffered a setback as it has been held under submission in the Appropriations Committee since May 16. Boerner joined several healthcare advocates during a press conference this month in voicing their concerns about the lack of movement on the bill. 

“When I got the news, I was heartbroken. I’m a mom. I got elected to make California better for the next generation,” Boerner said. 

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AB 2956 would provide continuous Medi-Cal coverage for children until they reach age five. The bill would also allow for continuous eligibility for folks above the age of 19 for a complete 12-month period, and would issue changes to the redeterminations process, like allowing a county to conduct another review of an individual’s obtained information for eligibility renewals without requiring a beneficiary response. 

As the mother of a child with a sensory processing disorder that received care during infancy, Boerner said she thinks about all the families who aren’t getting the same type of health coverage they previously had following the state’s Medicaid eligibility redetermination process, like mailing problems and typos, which led to some situations in which coverage was lost. 

“Disenrolling people over bureaucratic red tape is just wrong,” Boerner said. 

Boener said early intervention and healthcare for children and families helps prevent high emergency room costs and other challenges in the state’s hospital system. 

Mayra E. Alvarez, president of The Children’s Partnership, which advocates to advance child health equity, said she believes every child has the right to a healthy life.

“Healthcare coverage that is there when we need it is crucial to each of these goals,” Alvarez said. 

Babies, in particular, tend to visit a doctor up to seven times during their first year, and 90 percent of brain development occurs during the first five years of a child’s life, Alvarez said. Healthy early childhood development requires timely screenings and visits, which short gaps in healthcare coverage can disrupt, she said. 

“Time and time again, it is our broken systems that have failed California families, and we need our elected officials to do something about that,” Alvarez said. “Funding continuous Medi-Cal coverage for children zero to five has not yet been included in any budget proposal this year.” 

Alvarez noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, families who were enrolled in Medi-Cal were granted continuous coverage protections, but that changed after the ending of the public health emergency, and families now have to renew coverage on an annual basis. 

“Since then, over one million-and-a-half Californians have lost that coverage, including over 330,000 children in California,” Alvarez said. “The vast majority of children are still eligible for Medi-Cal.” 

Alvarez said unnecessary coverage losses occurred due to unanswered phone calls, renewal packets being lost in the mail, residents not understanding the language used on applications, and long phone call wait times. She noted that California has one of the worst Medicaid disenrollment rates in the nation. 

Seciah Aquino, executive director for the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC), said the state has the fifth-largest economy in the world.

“It is our duty, our responsibility, and our moral imperative to take care of our most vulnerable,” Aquino said.

LCHC works to ensure justice and equity for Latine and Indigenous communities across the state, and Aquino said the state of healthcare in California is more fragile from a public health perspective. Acute and long-term COVID-19 still impacts the system, combined with social and economic repercussions of the pandemic, which exacerbated long-standing health disparities. 

“Now more than ever, Medi-Cal is the saving grace for our children, our elders, our mothers, communities of color, disabled communities, all of us,” Aquino said. “We are only as strong as our most vulnerable Californians, and if we fail to take care of them, we are setting ourselves up for failure.” 

Aquino said the Medi-Cal disenrollment process since June 2023 has represented an antithesis to the decades of hard work in the state. Now, 1.6 million Californians have less coverage, and almost half of those are Latinos, according to Aquino. Pre-pandemic enrollment standards cannot continue to be the standard method, Aquino added. 
The advocates called upon state leaders to commit to health equity, and allocate funding for continuous Medi-Cal coverage for children amidst a budget deficit.

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