2016 was a successful year for access to health care in California

When it comes to Californians’ access to health care, we could say 2016 started and ended with the right foot for the Golden state – from strong Covered California enrollment to Medi-Cal expansion to help cover low income undocumented children.

Covered California started 2016 by enrolling consumers in health care coverage during January, its last month of its third open enrollment period.

More than 500 events across the state were scheduled during that month in January to help with enrollment before the Jan. 31, 2016 deadline. And many of those enrollment events were scheduled Jan. 30-31, the last weekend of open enrollment period.

Latino leaders – including State Senator Ed Hernández, D-Azusa, who heads the Senate Health Committee and human rights leader Dolores Huerta – joined Covered California to encourage Latinos who did not have health insurance to enroll in health coverage before enrollment ended.

Preliminary numbers released by Covered California officials in February 2016 indicated the state’s health exchange finished its third historic open enrollment period on a strong note.

According to Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California more than 439,000 consumers made plan selections for health care coverage through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act during the third open-enrollment period.

“In the last four days of open enrollment, nearly 100,000 consumers signed up for quality health care coverage,” said Lee early in the year.

As Covered California started its fourth open enrollment period in November, Lee’s message to consumers was very clear: “Get covered.”

As the future of Affordable Care Act is still uncertain under a Trump Administration, Lee said, “People should not roll the dice for going uninsured because of national political chatter.”

During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly said that once elected he would repeal and replace the ACA, which is also known as Obamacare.

More than 2.8 million Californians have purchased health insurance through the state’s market place since the exchange opened its doors in 2014 and across the country 20 million people have obtained health coverage.

As the Dec. 15 deadline was approaching, Covered California saw a strong increase in demand from consumers who wanted to start the New Year with health coverage.

“This strong demand shows that Californians are using the competitive marketplace that Covered California provides,” said Lee. “We are ahead of last year’s pace and are giving our Service Center staff and certified enrollers the time they need to bring health care coverage to thousands more.”

According to Covered California, as of Dec. 16 more than 196,000 consumers have signed up during the current open-enrollment period which started on Nov. 1.

California made history with the Medi-cal expansion

Statewide efforts to educate parents about the Medi-Cal Expansion for undocumented children took place early in the year, including many small rural communities in the Central Valley.

The initiative known as #Health4All Kids from The California Endowment ramped up its outreach efforts to educate undocumented and mixed immigration-status families in California about the Medi-Cal expansion, and encouraged parents to take immediate action even though the expansion didn’t start until May.

Health advocates wanted to make sure parents of low-income undocumented children were aware that California legislators had expanded full-scope Medi-Cal to cover all low-income children under the age of 19, regardless of their immigration status.

The Medi-Cal Expansion became effective on May 1, 2016 and approximately 170,000 undocumented children in California were eligible to gain access to health coverage for the first time.

California made history in May and became the state with the largest immigrant population to provide health care coverage to low-income undocumented children.

Senator Ricardo Lara’s Health for All Kids Road to Enrollment Tour culminated in Fresno at Clínica Sierra Vista as a celebration of the May 16th Medi-Cal expansion.

“The Central Valley in particular is an area medically underserved,” Lara said of stopping in Fresno, adding that the Valley has a large population of immigrants.

“In California, one of six families have mixed status,” Lara said in May.

The expansion, Lara added, will make a big “impact in the families of the Central Valley.”

Valley health programs/events that made the news

▪ 1. Fresno residents had access to more open green spaces in 2016 thanks to an agreement between the city, Fresno Unified and Central Unified school districts to open school grounds for the public to use for outdoor recreational activities during the weekends. The $1.2 million agreement plan, opened 16 school sites throughout the city and added approximately 340 acres of green space that according to community advocates are badly needed especially in underserved areas, such as southeast Fresno.

▪ 2. The WE Connect event, which was founded in 2005 by the former First Lady of California, María Shriver, and is now administered by The California Endowment, celebrated its 10 year anniversary at the Big Fresno Fairgrounds were low-income families were connected with many resources including health enrollment and tax-preparation assistance. The event, which is a large-scale effort by local community organizations to bring resources to the community, celebrated a decade of serving communities throughout the state with large populations of uninsured and underserved residents.

▪ 3. Low-income residents in Southeast Fresno had greater access to local fruits and vegetables thanks to the opening of two new school farms in that area. One of the school farm stands was located at Lane Elementary School and the second school farm stand was at the Vang Pao Elementary School. Both farm stands are a collaborative effort between Cultiva La Salud, Fresno Unified School District, University of California Cooperative Extension – Fresno County and the National Hmong American Farmers. According to Genoveva Islas, Program Director, Cultiva La Salud, a program of the Public Health Institute, the Central Valley, one of the nation’s richest agricultural regions, lacks easy access to the many fruits and vegetables grown in the area with many residents, like those who live in southeast Fresno, lacking access to full-scale grocery stores or farmers markets in their neighborhoods.

▪ 4. Orange Cove residents danced their way to healthy lifestyle thanks to a partnership between City of Orange Cove, Kings Canyon Unified School District and Cultiva La Salud. The partnership secured a shared-use agreement, allowing school physical activity space to be open in schools throughout the district where residents can use on weekdays for exercise. The Muévelo! Zumba free classes’ goal was to engage Latino residents in Orange Cove in exercise. The Muévelo! (Move It!), Zumba kick-off celebration also honored the First Lady Michelle Obama’s national ‘Let’s Move!’ Initiative dedicated to addressing childhood obesity.

▪ 5. A new Center on Aging at UCSF Fresno was established to address the healthcare needs of older community members living in the Central Valley. The Larry L. Hillblom Center on Aging at UCSF Fresno center was made possible thanks to a $1 million gift from the Larry L. Hillblom Foundation to UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program. Hillblom was one of the founders of DHL and who grew up in Kingsburg. The center is located on the third floor of the East Medical Plaza, at 2335 E. Kashian Lane, adjacent to the UCSF Fresno Center for Medical Education and Research in downtown Fresno.

▪ 6. ‘The Silent Garden’ Conference at California State University, Fresno in February provided information and resources to Latino families with children who are deaf or hard of hearing. This was the first year the conference was taught in Spanish and more than 200 Spanish-speaking parents in the Valley attended.

▪ 7. Low-income undocumented residents in Sacramento County gained access to healthcare coverage thanks to the county’s new Healthy Partners Program which would provide healthcare access to 3,000 people. Approximately 80,000 undocumented residents live in the greater Sacramento region. Healthy Partners Program is Sacramento County’s new health coverage program for undocumented residents. The program was created through the advocacy of a coalition of community organizations in Building Healthy Communities collaborative, and championed by Supervisor Phil Serna to restore healthcare access to undocumented residents in the county.

▪ 8. The statewide fight against diabetes and obesity epidemic targeting sugary drinks ended early in the year as the Sugary beverage tax bill was pulled from Assembly Health Committee without a vote in Sacramento in April. The measure AB 2782, which would had established a two-cent per ounce health impact fee on sugar sweetened beverages sold in the state.

▪ 9. Environmental justice advocates called the historic agreement with two state agencies a huge victory not only for the community of Kettleman City and its residents, but a victory for other disadvantage and vulnerable communities of color suffering environmental injustice in other parts of the country. “This historic settlement will help protect the health, environment and civil rights of low-income, people of color and non-English speaking residents living in Kettleman City and dozens of other at-risk and polluted communities across the state,” said Bradley Angel, executive director for Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice.

▪ 10. Advancing Latino health in the state a priority for assembly member Dr. Joaquín Arámbula. He was the force behind a three-part series health forum roundtable discussion, ‘Advancing Latino Health: Are California Medical Schools Meeting the Needs of the Latino Community?’ was held in Sacramento, Fresno and Southern California thanks to a collaboration between Arámbula’s office, with the Latino Journal and the Latino Physicians of California (LPOC).

María G. Ortiz-Briones: 559-441-6782, @TuValleTuSalud