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New 'Express Lane' Links Food Stamp Recipients to Health Care

Anna Challet, Special to the Informer from New America Media | 4/2/2014, 3 p.m.
Californians who receive food stamps are now able to get easy access to health care.
Courtesy photo

Californians who receive food stamps are now able to get easy access to health care. Under a program that started last month, uninsured adults and children who are enrolled in the state’s food stamp program CalFresh are now able to access Medi-Cal, the health care program for low-income families -- without having to fill out an application. Individuals must consent to the expedited enrollment, however, and advocates are working to make sure that those who are eligible are aware of the option.

“As part of the Affordable Care Act, ‘express lane eligibility’ has been an opportunity to enroll many folks in an easy way,” says Kristen Golden Testa, the California health program director of The Children’s Partnership, a national nonprofit organization. She spoke at a telebriefing today organized by The Children’s Partnership and New America Media.

This new “express lane” uses information gathered during the enrollment process for one program in order to automatically enroll an individual in another program that has similar eligibility rules, she says.

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. For now, the option will be available through the end of 2015.

In February, DHCS sent out letters about express lane eligibility option to more than 570,000 adults and over 150,000 children who are currently receiving CalFresh benefits but are not enrolled in Medi-Cal. Letters were sent out in 12 languages, according to the languages individuals chose when they enrolled in CalFresh.

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.

Each letter sent by DHCS contains a PIN unique to each eligible individual, and enrollment can be completed by signing and returning the letter or by entering the PIN on the DHCS website or on the phone (1-844-212-0003). In-person enrollment is also available at county Medi-Cal offices.

Uninsured individuals enrolled in CalFresh who either did not receive letters or may have discarded them by mistake can contact their county social services office.

“This project has really helped DHCS to streamline the process for thousands of people to enroll in Medi-Cal, and to get as many people into coverage as quickly and as easily as possible,” says Haswell.

She says that the department will next be looking at streamlined enrollment for uninsured parents whose children are already enrolled in Medi-Cal.

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.