Friday, Mar 22 2013 07:01 PM

Advocates urging people to apply for health plan coverage

BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer

Health care advocates played off the Affordable Care Act's third anniversary to promote a local health plan designed to transition people into coverage Friday.

Against a screen projection counting down the days until Jan. 1, they urged people to apply for the Kern Medical Center Health Plan, the local Low Income Health Program.

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The Kern Medical Center Health Plan is open to county residents ages 19 to 64. Applicants must meet the plan's income eligibility requirement and cannot be eligible for Medi-Cal. Applicants must also be legal U.S. residents for at least five years or a citizen. Applications can be dropped off, faxed or mailed.

For information about the plan and applications, visit

About 7,000 people are already enrolled in the plan but about 38,000 Kern County residents are eligible.

"There's just no reason to wait. The program is here," said Carmen Burgos, project manager for the Kern health consumer unit of Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance.

The program covers people with incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level, about $30,600 annually for a family of four.

The plan includes primary and specialty care, medications and hospital services, said Jacey Cooper, executive director of managed care at Kern Medical Center.

"We don't want people to wait 'til they're sick to sign up for the program. We'd really like you to get into the program sooner, focus on primary care and preventative care," Cooper said.

The news conference -- complete with a cake topped with a No. 3-shaped candle to commemorate the passage of health care reform legislation -- also included a couple of people who are already enrolled in the plan.

Bakersfield resident Maria Taft said she got on the plan two years ago after her application for Medi-Cal was denied. An employee at Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance told her about the Kern Medical Center Health Plan option.

"(It's) very easy to apply. It's not a lot of papers," Taft said.

Taft said her care has been "very good." She is able to get her prescriptions easily and she had a surgery within the last couple of months that she didn't have to pay a penny for, Taft said.

Though the plan has partnered with Clinica Sierra Vista and National Health Services to enroll people, Burgos said there are still barriers for some populations, such as a lack of Internet access in rural areas.

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