By Christopher Dolan and Vanessa Deniston:
As COVID-19 continues to spread across the state, it is imperative that every Californian be informed of their health care options, especially if they begin to show signs and symptoms of the coronavirus. For individuals with health care coverage through an employer, Medi-Cal, Medicare, or Covered California, the state has eliminated all cost-sharing requirements on medically necessary screenings and COVID-19 testing, as well as urgent care, hospital and provider visits for the purpose of screening and/or testing for COVID-19, meaning co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance payments that would normally be billed to patients in such instances will be waived.
The state has also mandated that medically necessary screenings and testing for COVID-19 will be free. This will also apply to telehealth services as well as in-person doctor and urgent care visits. Such telehealth services are being expanded statewide for individuals unable to visit their doctor in person.
In light of the statewide “shelter in place” order, a great majority of individuals in the hospitality, restaurant, retail, and event industries are now without health insurance. Covered California and the California Department of Health Care Services have joined forces to assist unemployed residents with a path to insurance through state programs like Medi-Cal and Covered California. Covered California has announced it is extending its typical enrollment period to June 30th. Individuals who sign up through Covered California, will have access to private health insurance plans with monthly premiums that may be lowered in response to the crisis, depending on annual income. Once a plan is selected, coverage would begin on the first of the following month, to help avoid gaps in coverage. Residents can visit CoveredCA.com to learn more.
California’s undocumented population can avail themselves of certain public programs like Medi-Cal, which does not exclude any group from accessing emergency care so long as they meet the basic eligibility requirements. Emergency care coverage will apply to those who require medically necessary testing and health care related to COVID-19, even if such individuals are undocumented. Unlike with the Covered California program, residents may apply for Medi-Cal at any time. If an individual is determined to be eligible for Medi-Cal, coverage begins immediately and is effective back to the first day of the month in which the application was submitted. Those already enrolled in the Medi-Cal program that are up for renewal will have their coverage extended, as a 90-day hold has been placed on Medi-Cal renewal reviews. For further resources on the Medi-Cal eligibility requirements and application process visit dhcs.ca.gov.
California’s Medicare program, a service offered to any California resident over 65 or with a qualifying disability, provides health care coverage for all lab tests and medically necessary hospitalizations related to COVID-19. Medicare also covers telehealth services such as “virtual check-ins” with an individual’s established physician and written communication between patient and care provider through online portals. These telehealth resources are especially useful for Medicare recipients who live in rural areas or who may have symptoms and simply wish to check in with their physician for reassurance or guidance. For further resources on how the state run Medicare program is responding to COVID-19, visit medicare.gov.
Currently, there are 22 public health labs across California testing for COVID-19, a number of which are in the Bay Area. Bay Area testing labs are currently located in San Francisco, Alameda, Richmond, Contra Costa County, San Mateo, and Solano County. Broad scale testing, however, is not yet available. If you are experiencing any of the key COVID-19 symptoms, which include fever, cough or shortness of breath, the California Department of Public Health is advising you to call your physician.
Based on the severity of your symptoms, your physician may advise you to come in so a specimen can be collected for testing, or your physician may advise you to stay at home and self-isolate in the case of more mild symptoms. If you are unable to contact a physician and are experiencing severe symptoms, CDPH advises you to go to your local urgent care or call 911. Further state resources and guidelines can be found at cdph.ca.gov.
This pandemic is hitting certain communities harder than others, particularly older people, individuals with chronic health conditions, those without proper housing, undocumented residents, and individuals in industries that have been virtually shut down due to the “shelter in place” order. In the face of this urgent public health crisis, everyone must act with vigilance to protect those in our community in these especially high risk categories, by staying at home, practicing social distancing, disinfecting surfaces daily, and frequently washing your hands with soap and water.