Four Years Later, Millions Have Access to Quality Health Coverage
OAKLAND, Calif. – On Sunday, ethnic health leaders in California will celebrate the fourth anniversary of President Barack Obama’s signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). As of January 1st, the ACA has extended access to affordable health coverage to millions of Californians through the expansion of Medi-Cal and the operation of Covered California. The law has had a particular impact on the state’s communities of color, who represent a majority of those who are eligible to enroll in the new health coverage options now available.
“The ACA promised to be the most sweeping reform of our health system in generations, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen,” said Ignatius Bau, Interim Executive Director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. “In the years since the signing of the ACA, California has led the way by embracing the full Medi-Cal expansion and creating a more consumer friendly health insurance marketplace through Covered California. The result is that over 2 million people have enrolled in health coverage, many from communities of color.”
Since open enrollment began in October, over 1 million Californians have chosen a health plan through Covered California. In addition, over 1.2 million have enrolled in the expanded Medi-Cal program, about half of whom transitioned from the Low-Income Health Program. “Many of our community members have never had insurance before,” said Kathy Ko Chin, President and CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum. “The numbers of people that have enrolled to this point show us how popular these programs are while highlighting the need for more outreach and education to improve enrollment and to teach people how to utilize their new health care. Overall the enrollment numbers have been encouraging but California needs to do more to attract California’s diverse communities, particularly Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and people who are Limited English Proficient. We are excited by the progress to date, and with a little more targeted outreach, the ACA will truly change the landscape of health care across California’s diverse communities.”
The ACA has also helped to increase access for some immigrant populations, including recent legal immigrants and those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. A recent study found that over 125,000 DACA youth will be eligible for the Medi-Cal expansion. “Granting Medi-Cal eligibility for California’s DACA immigrants is a huge step in the right direction,” said Xavier Morales, Executive Director of the Latino Coalition for a Health California. “Over 80% of the Californians receiving DACA status will be eligible for Medi-Cal thanks to the ACA. This will give these young immigrants the security of knowing that they are not just one injury away from financial ruin. However, many more immigrants will still remain uninsured even after the ACA, so it is important that we continue to fight for quality, affordable health care for all regardless of immigration status.”
Effective January 1st, Medi-Cal began offering more comprehensive mental health and substance abuse services, greatly increasing their accessibility to low-income communities of color. “There are approximately 1.2 million adults living with some form of mental illness in California, many of whom are from communities of color,” said B. Darcel Lee, Executive Director of the California Black Health Network. “Increasing access to preventive mental health services and substance abuse screening and support will have a stabilizing impact on our communities, helping to reduce homelessness and recidivism, and paving the way for economic opportunity for all Californians.”
The ACA has also had an impact on California’s native population, who are increasingly applying for coverage in Covered California and Medi-Cal. “While native communities are exempt from the requirement to purchase health coverage as stipulated in the ACA, many are still purchasing coverage through Covered California and enrolling in Medi-Cal,” said Mark LeBeau, Executive Director of the California Rural Indian Health Board. “Many of California’s native communities rely on underfunded clinics through Indian Health Services. However, as more people enroll in coverage through the ACA, more resources and revenue streams are freed up to alleviate some of the financial burden on these IHS clinics. Strengthening these trusted sources of care would be a great legacy for the ACA among California’s native population.”
The Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) influences policy, mobilizes communities, and strengthens programs and organizations to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
The California Black Health Network (CBHN) advocates for policies and programs that will improve the health status of people of African descent in California.
The California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) works to eliminate health disparities by advocating for public policies and sufficient resources to address the health needs of communities of color.
The California Rural Indian Health Board (CRIHB), Inc. is devoted to the needs and interests of the Indians of Rural California.
The Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC) is committed to initiating and advancing policies that will increase access to health services and build healthy Latino communities in California.