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Ten California counties receive grants to provide health insurance for low-income residents

by Adrienne Verrilli, published

While multiple provisions of the federal health care reform law have been enacted this year, health insurance still remains out-of-reach for thousands of low-income Californians.  To help remedy the situation, the Blue Shield of California Foundation (BSCF) awarded $1.7 million to 10 California counties last week to help develop plans to expand health insurance coverage until federal health care reform takes effect in 2014.  The counties that received grants include Contra Costa, Kern, Los Angeles, Monterey, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Mateo and Stanislaus.  

In November of this year, Governor Schwarzenegger announced a Medicaid waiver agreement with the federal government to expand Medi-Cal (the state's Medicaid program ), potentially bringing $10 billion in federal funding over five years to help expand health insurance coverage and improve health care for as many as 400,000 low-income California residents.  However, to be eligible for the federal funding, the state must provide matching funds.  Given the state's financial problems, that was simply not possible.  In steps BSCF.  The intent of these grants - and the 12 other county grants awarded earlier this year - is to assist California counties in becoming eligible for federal funding under the Medi-Cal expansion.

For example, San Bernardino County is designing its own Low Income Health Program (LIHP) that will provide insurance coverage and a place to go for medical care for more than 90,000 uninsured.  LIHP will cover individuals ages 19 to 64 who are zero to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, who are citizens or "qualifying" noncitizens and residents of the county.  Individuals cannot be pregnant nor be eligible for Medi-Cal of the Children's Health Insurance Program.  As such, many who qualify will be low-income single males. 

LIHP provides a place to go for ongoing, comprehensive medical care and for avoiding costly visits to the emergency room.  It wil also allow for better coordination of primary and specialty care, including the managing of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and asthma, illnesses that are particularly prevalent among people with low-incomes.  LIHP is expected to get underway on June 1, 2011. 

Increasing health insurance coverage for Californians cannot come soon enough.  A report just released by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that nearly 6 million Californians lack job-based health insurance.  Of those, only one-third could find health insurance coverage through Medi-Cal, private insurance, or through a parent's health insurance plan.  

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