This is not the prescription for a smooth transition to the newly-expanded Medi-Cal program when the Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014.
The California Department of Health Care Services mistakenly sent out letters to 246,000 low-income people enrolling in the state’s version of Medicaid, warning them that they may not be able to keep their doctors when Obamacare takes hold in January. The letters went to people in 11 counties, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.
Unlike President Barack Obama’s famously incorrect assurance that no one in the country signing up for his signature health insurance program would lose their health plans and doctors, Medi-Cal patients really will be able to keep theirs.
The letter was wrong.
More than 483,000 letters were sent out November 1 to people enrolled in a Bridge to Reform, a program initiated in 2011 to sign up people up early for Medi-Cal and nail down their primary physician. Nearly a quarter-million of them were incorrectly told in the letter that they may have to switch physicians because their doctors weren’t part of the Medi-Cal network.
That set off a mini-panic among recipients who immediately inundated their low-cost clinics and doctor’s offices with anguished cries for help. A corrected version of the letter was sent out last week, but not before adding a new layer of confusion to an already-chaotic Obamacare rollout.
One of the largest impacts of the Affordable Care Act is the extension of health insurance to millions of low-income people who have none, at virtually no cost to them. In California, 1.3 million people are expected to benefit. The overall savings to the state—from having a healthier population and by keeping people out of emergency rooms for primary care—is expected to be substantial.
But the key to success is getting people to sign up for the care, and the bogus letters didn’t further the cause. Bridge to Reform is a joint effort by counties and the federal government, who are splitting the costs until the feds start paying 100% in 2014. It was meant to get the jump on enrolling low-income people in Medi-Cal by providing an early, seamless transition.
Many of those patients are hearing about the myriad problems facing people signing up for non-Medi-Cal Covered California—the wretched website and loss of their existing insurance policies and doctors—and figured the letters meant they were part of the mess.
They are part of the mess, but they’re not losing their doctors.