By Manny Otiko / California Black Media
In 1998, San Pedro resident Alaina Howard was diagnosed with Takayasu’s arteritis, a disease that narrows and obstructs the arteries. Her doctors gave her two years to live. Faced with the difficulty of accepting her diagnosis, Howard also had to deal with frequent fainting spells, caused by the limited flow of blood to her brain.
Seventeen years later, Howard has beaten the odds and is still alive, but she had to go on disability.
Unable to work, Howard — a Pennsylvania resident at the time — was forced to apply for public aid. During that process, she learned her status also qualified her for health insurance through Medicaid. In 2007, she moved from Pennsylvania to California and enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for low-income individuals or families.
Howard says Medi-Cal has been invaluable for maintaining her health, even though she faced a few challenges along the way — like the long lines at her county human services agency. She says the wait was well worth it, though, when she is faced with huge medical bills from frequent hospital visits. Not being on the hook with collection agencies for bills she cannot afford for services she needs to control her chronic illness, is the best part of the coverage, says Howard. And even though she still has to pay some out-of-pocket medical expenses for her two children, she can’t imagine what her life would be like without her Medi-Cal coverage.
In addition to providing health care for people with chronic illnesses like Howard, Medi-Cal offers a variety of preventive health care programs, according to Adam Weintraub, a spokesman for the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS.)
The state’s government-funded health coverage program, which has historically focused on services to children and families, has now expanded to include single men and women without children and disabilities who qualify based on their annual income. To be eligible, an individual would have to earn less than $16,105 every year or $32,913 for a family of four.
“Medi-Cal provides Californians with access to affordable, high-quality health care, including medical, dental, mental health, substance use disorder treatment services, and long-term care,” Weintraub said. “Among the programs administered by DHCS are: California Children’s Services; Child Health and Disability Prevention program; the Genetically Handicapped Persons Program; the Newborn Hearing Screening Program; the Family Planning, Access, Care, and Treatment Program (PACT); Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE); Every Woman Counts; and Coordinated Care Management. DHCS also administers programs for underserved Californians, including farm workers and American Indian communities.”
California is also working to expand the number of people with access to health care through Covered California, a marketplace where individuals whose incomes exceed the threshold to qualify for Medi-Cal can access private health insurance, potentially with financial assistance. Covered California is part of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act commonly called “Obamacare” and is a partner with the California Department of Health Care Services, together providing affordable, quality health coverage options to Californians.
On the Covered California website, Weintraub says, individuals can find out if they qualify for low-cost, private health insurance or Medi-Cal.
“New enrollment for 2015 coverage is strong and has brought in consumers our marketing and outreach targeted,” said Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee. “It is clear Latinos, African Americans and young adults not only heard, but acted on increased advertising and person-to-person outreach.”
People who are interested in applying for Medi-Cal can sign up year-round online or by mail. They can also enroll in person at their local human services agency. For more information about Medi-Cal enrollment, go to www.dhcs.ca.gov/services/medi-cal/pages/applyformedi-cal.aspx or call your local county human services agency. You can also visit Covered California’s website at www.coveredca.com or call 1-800-300-1506.