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Possible Explanation Offered for Delayed Medi-Cal Termination Data

State officials have said they’re handling about one million renewals a month for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. It’s a process that started in June 2014. In addition to renewing  Medi-Cal benefits for some Californians, the process includes terminating coverage for others for a variety of reasons. State officials last week said they don’t have data for how many Californians have been dropped from the Medi-Cal program.

“The data you requested for the number and percentage of renewals, as well as the number of people dropped from Medi-Cal coverage, are not available at this time,” DHCS spokesperson Tony Cava said in an email.

Everyone enrolled in Medi-Cal must renew eligibility every year to remain in the program. DHCS officials did not give any reasons for termination data not being available now.

Cathy Senderling-McDonald, deputy executive director for the County Welfare Directors Association of California, said the gap in reporting is understandable.

“My understanding is they are pulling data for 2014 now,” Senderling-McDonald said. “There are so many moving pieces. Of course it is important that we see the data — but it’s more important that it be good data at the right time.”

She said it can be misleading to look at simple information such as the number of terminations in a given month. Because so many people have trouble with the Medi-Cal renewal process, many of them are dropped one month and then re-enroll one month or many months later. So the department has to process information over many months to get accurate counts.

“The data runs they’re doing now, you do get some noise in the numbers because the [Medi-Cal renewal] process has been so different” due to new federal Medicaid requirements, Senderling McDonald said. “There will be a bit of a lag in getting those numbers.”

How much of a lag is unclear.

According to DHCS officials, there are roughly one million people a month who need to re-enroll for Medi-Cal, or 12 million over the full year. That renewal process started in June 2014, DHCS officials said, and terminations of beneficiaries from Medi-Cal coverage began after a 90-day grace period — meaning notices of termination started going out in September 2014.

In the past, some county workers have estimated a usual return rate of about 80% renewals — meaning 20% are dropped every year. Given the roughly estimated pool of 12 million beneficiaries, that would mean about 2.4 million could be dropped from Medi-Cal during this renewal year.

If a lower percentage of people do not renew their Medi-Cal eligibility, the overall number of Californians dropped from coverage could be significantly higher. It’s an important number for advocates and lawmakers to get an initial read on how many people might drop out of Medi-Cal this year. It has implications for the state budget discussion, as well.

“We continue to work with the counties on gathering specific Medi-Cal renewal/disenrollment data,” Cava wrote in his email response. “Once this data becomes available, we can share with you and … to discuss any follow-up questions you may have.”

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Capitol Desk Medi-Cal