State Outlines Plan To Transition Low-Income Health Program to Medi-Cal

by David Gorn

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State officials last week said more than 90% of Low Income Health Program enrollees will be able to keep their primary care physician when LIHP is folded into the Medi-Cal expansion in 2014.

Brian Hansen, health reform advisor in the director's office at the Department of Health Care Services, made the prediction as one of about a dozen state agency experts who spoke Thursday at a conference in Sacramento, "At the Forefront: LIHP Transition Prepares California for Health Reform," put on by DHCS and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

"Over 90% of enrollees will be assigned to their current LIHP primary care provider. We will do that to the extent that it's possible," Hansen said. Since LIHP was designed as a bridge to 2014 health care reform efforts, most of the roughly 628,000 people now in LIHP will move to Medi-Cal in January. State officials have estimated that approximately 24,000 of LIHP enrollees would move to the Covered California health benefit exchange instead.

That means that more than 603,000 enrollees making the move to Medi-Cal will see little change in their care, Hansen said.  

"By and large, the benefit package is more robust in Medi-Cal," he said. "But there will be some things Medi-Cal won't cover."

The department is still in the process of determining what to do about a few specialty services, such as podiatric care, which might not transfer to Medi-Cal, Hansen said. 

The conference was intended to keep dialogue open between county and state officials, to make sure the transition goes as smoothly as possible, he said. He added that all county officials involved in LIHP should take a look at the DHCS website.

"We've just released a much-revised transition plan," Hansen said. "It addressed a number of planning details that were critical."

Toby Douglas, director of DHCS, said he couldn't be happier with the development of LIHP.

"Back in 2010, we laid out a vision" for a low-income, bridge-to-reform program, Douglas said. "We set ambitious targets, we wanted to see if we could get 54 counties up and running. And a goal of enrolling 512,000 seemed really ambitious," he said.

"And look where we are today," Douglas said. "With more than 600,000 people enrolled, in 53 counties."

Douglas said the next big collaborative task between the state and counties is to transform the enrollment and eligibility system for Medi-Cal.

"But looking at where we've been and how far we've come," he said, "I know we'll get there."


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