Last year, I went to the Los Angeles Sports Arena to witness a massive free medical clinic for thousands of low-income residents. I was impressed by the focus on enrolling patients for continuing care, either through coverage programs within the city or community health centers.
The health clinic has returned to LA this week, and if anything, that focus on continuing care has ramped up. And they’re actually using the clinic as a gateway to the Medicaid expansion that hits in 2014.
Many of the 4,800 people seeking care at the annual massive free clinic this weekend will become eligible for health insurance in 2014 when the national law takes effect. Organizers said raising awareness about the healthcare changes is crucial.
“It’s as important as the care being delivered this year,” said Howard Kahn, chief executive at L.A. Care Health Plan, one of the main sponsors. “We need to let people know about the coverage.”
Some are already eligible for Healthy Way LA, a free health-coverage program for certain low-income county residents. The program is seen as a bridge to healthcare reform, because the enrolled patients will become eligible for Medi-Cal in 2014. Other county residents will qualify for subsidies to purchase healthcare under the state’s insurance marketplace, the California Health Benefit Exchange.
Organizers were pushing Healthy Way LA last year as well. That program operates off a federal-state Medicaid grant, so it will be easy to fold into the broader coverage expansion. The idea is to capture those who qualify and enroll them, only to transfer them onto Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid, come 2014. One of the biggest overlooked factors in the Affordable Care Act is awareness and enrollment. The high-risk pools largely have not worked because of the low take-up, and that is directly due to the lack of awareness of the program. Using these feeder programs looks like a great way to ensure strong take-up when the Medicaid expansion and the exchanges hit in 2014.
Sadly, even with strong enrollment, some people will slip through the cracks. Even well into the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, observers expect as many as 20 million uninsured, if not more. So clinics like this will still be necessary as a stopgap. That’s almost unconscionable in America, but it’s a fact of life. The better a job they do at moving the eligible into coverage, the more patients clinics like this can actually serve.