LA Care calls on Congress to strengthen Medicaid system in anticipation of enrollment surge

In anticipation of a surge in Medi-Cal enrollment due to COVID-19 job losses, L.A. Care Health Plan sent a letter to Congress on Thursday calling on lawmakers to strengthen the Medicaid system.

According to a recent report from Health Management Associates (HMA), California could see up to 3 million new Medi-Cal enrollees due to the economic downturn stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic — almost a 25% increase in the state. That figure is based off a high unemployment scenario of 25%.

 

 

That scenario may not be too far from reality. Since the middle of March, 16.6% of women and 12.6% of men in the California labor force have filed initial unemployment insurance claims, according to a policy brief from the California Policy Lab.

“If all 14.4% of workers claiming since March 15th are still unemployed this suggests an unemployment rate approaching 20%, compared to a rate of 5.3% in the first half of March,” reads the brief. “Typically, fewer than two-thirds of unemployed workers apply for UI benefits, so the underlying total increase in the rate of unemployment could be one-and-a-half to two times as large as 14.4%.”

L.A. Care’s letter, which was signed by 15 local public health plans, details four measures they believe should be included in the next COVID-19 relief package to prepare for a potential upswing in enrollees. The letter calls on Congress to:

  • Increase the federal share of Medicaid funding for two years to assist states as they experience declines in revenue stemming from the public health emergency. L.A. Care notes that an additional $192 billion in federal funding may be necessary to sustain Medicaid programs over a two-year period.
  • Suspend the proposed Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Rule (MFAR) released last year. The rule would alter the way states are able to finance their share of Medicaid, resulting in large cuts to state programs.
  • Extend presumptive eligibility for Medicaid so that those who lose their jobs due to COVID-19 do not have to wait weeks or months before they can get care.
  • Stop implementation of the public charge rule so that people are unafraid to seek medical care.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn are further straining state budgets across the country, and without federal action, there could be major cuts to Medicaid benefits,” said John Baackes, CEO of L.A. Care. “Congress did shore up the system after the 2008 financial crisis, and it must do so again.”