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Finding care after Medi-Cal cuts

Services the state no longer covers can be had from clinics at low or no cost.

July 20, 2009|Francesca Lunzer Kritz

Routine teeth cleanings, optometric exams, podiatric care and some mental health visits -- all are among the services no longer paid for, as of July 1, for Californians covered by Medi-Cal.

Health advocates fear that beneficiaries will read or hear about the budget-inflicted cuts and simply forgo such care. "Over 2 million adults will lose coverage for 10 Medi-Cal benefits and will . . . go without care or experience hardship if they pay out-of-pocket," says Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, an advocacy group. (See the full list of cuts on the organization's website, www.health-access.org.)

Further, unlike in years past, the recent cuts may not be restored after the budget wrangling ends. And more cuts could be coming. And, as if the situation weren't dire enough, Californians, like citizens in all 49 other states, continue to lose jobs -- and with that loss, their health insurance.

There's a way

But don't give up on care. For many people, community clinics remain an option.

The clinics are trying to use other funds to provide such services, including privately raised money and some recently allocated funding from President Obama's stimulus plan, says Melissa Schoen, senior program officer at the California Healthcare Foundation. And Medi-Cal coverage continues, despite the budget cuts, for other types of medical care, including many medical tests and disease treatment.

Generally, Medi-Cal is available for low-income children and families, pregnant women and disabled people. To find out if you qualify, go to the Department of Health Care Services website, click "apply for Medi-Cal" on the left, and then click "find out if I qualify" in the middle of the next page. Or call (877) 597-4777 to be directed to the nearest Medi-Cal office. Health clinic staff can also help with applications.

Getting registered

Clinics take income into account and offer some free care or care on a sliding-scale basis. No one will be turned away for lack of funds, Schoen says.

To be eligible for care at clinics though, people need to register at a clinic so that the staff can determine their potential eligibility for subsidized programs. Find a local clinic through the U.S. Health and Human Services website or by calling (888) ASK-HRSA [275-4772].

Once registered, Californians can seek out care at other community health center clinics. If, for example, one clinic no longer offers dental or podiatric services, another may. People who are offered care on a sliding scale will find that that fees range from what any community provider would charge to absolutely nothing, Schoen says.

Clinic users may find that with the recent budget cuts waiting times to get an appointment are longer and clinic hours may be shorter. And though your current provider may decide not to treat you any longer because of the Medi-Cal cuts, if you've been getting care at a private provider, rather than at a clinic, it's worth trying to see if her or she will negotiate a fee you can afford.

If you're newly uninsured, staff at community health centers can help you sign up for services, including Medi-Cal, that may cover some or all of your care. New to Medi-Cal? Some retail health clinics, such as CVS' Minute Clinics, contract with Medi-Cal to provide some care, such as wound checks, at fees below the clinics' posted rates.

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health@latimes.com

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