In a quiet office on the edge of downtown Napa, Linda Acevedo Benson wields a calculator, computer, and 8 years of experience as she helps low-income residents reenroll in Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, a national public health insurance program.
Benson, Health Services manager for the nonprofit Community Health Initiative (CHI) in Napa County, recently worked with Maria Gil and her husband Salvador Gil Rodriguez to reenroll in Medi-Cal. The Spanish-speaking couple said they often find paperwork, such as the reenrollment documents, confusing. Benson, who is bilingual, cheerfully helps.
“We explain what all the papers are and exactly what they need to do to reenroll,” Benson said. “We spend about 45 minutes filling out forms, submit them to the county, and then check on their case each week until it’s approved.”
Community Health Initiative also does bilingual outreach, in-person and on the radio, to inform the community about reenrollment.
Grants support outreach and reenrollment
Kaiser Permanente recently granted $1.89 million to support 29 community organizations throughout the state, including CHI, to increase awareness of reenrollment and expand outreach and assistance to ensure people reenroll in Medi-Cal or enroll in another form of health insurance. In April, California joined other states in resuming the regular Medicaid renewal process that had been suspended during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
According to the state, more than 15 million Californians, or nearly 40% of state residents, are enrolled in Medi-Cal. By some estimates, 2 to 3 million Californians may be disenrolled in the program in the coming months. Some will no longer be eligible, others may move and not receive the reenrollment packet, and others will not understand or not complete the process.
“It’s critically important that we support Medi-Cal reenrollment. Millions of people with low incomes use Medi-Cal to access medical, dental, mental health, and prescription services,” said Yvette Radford, vice president, External and Community Affairs for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. “Through our grants and direct outreach efforts, we’re helping to ensure that no one is left without health care coverage.”
Kaiser Permanente is also reaching out to its own Medi-Cal members in California (and Medicaid members in other states) to ensure they have the information they need to reenroll or enroll in other coverage.
Helping people one at a time
Getting the word out and helping people reenroll takes time and resources.
Joanna Galindo, program director for Catholic Charities in Stockton, said public service announcements and flyers are good, but ultimately, people need to be helped one at a time. Galindo’s agency also received grant support from Kaiser Permanente.
“Our work is old school, making cold calls to people we’ve helped in the past and meeting one-on-one with people who may not read or write,” Galindo said. “The funding from Kaiser Permanente enabled us to hire an additional care coordinator. That’s another pair of boots on the ground.”
Back in Napa, this on-the-ground help is clearly appreciated by people like Maria Gil and her husband. Gil receives care for asthma and thyroid disease. She said having Medi-Cal provides peace of mind.
“I have prescriptions, and I need appointments. Without Medi-Cal that would be very expensive,” she said. “Having the help from these organizations and from Linda has been excellent. She’s like a guardian angel.”