Tomorrow, Oct. 1, Californians will be able to begin exploring their health care options under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). For many Kern County residents, this means shopping for health care coverage, many for the first time.
The Kern County Department of Human Services is just one piece of this new health care coverage puzzle, but we know that our office is where many people will turn to understand their health care coverage options available either through the expansion of Medi-Cal, or through the state insurance exchange, known as Covered California.
It is estimated that 52,000 Kern County residents will qualify for income-based and federal subsidized coverage through Covered California, and approximately 38,000 residents will qualify for expanded Medi-Cal coverage.
While enrollment begins on Tuesday, the Kern County Department of Human Services has been working towards this unprecedented expansion of for several months. Our department has created a new call center in order to take calls directly from Covered California. We have also expanded our hours so that our regional call center staff will be available to take calls from Covered California, even on Saturdays. We are excited about health care reform, as access to health care will improve the well-being of individuals and families in our communities.
Fortunately, our county has many existing resources that gave us a head start. For example, our county -- like all 58 counties in the state -- has an integrated eligibility system for enrolling people into Medi-Cal, CalWORKs and CalFresh (formally known as food stamps). This system is how more than eight million people statewide receive health and food assistance every day. We offer an array of options for people to access our programs -- in person, online, by phone and by mail. We have a knowledgeable, trained workforce who knows their community well and understands the changing circumstances of clients' lives.
With the support of the Kern County Board of Supervisors, we have been working on implementation activities to augment our existing resources. We've hired and trained 61 additional staff to evaluate health care eligibility and connect individuals and families with affordable health care options. Our staff has undergone extensive training, adapting to new programs, new rules and policies and learning how to serve new populations.
We know a large percent of CalFresh enrollees who are not currently receiving Medi-Cal will be eligible for health care under the new expansion. Likewise, a large percent of newly eligible Medi-Cal recipients will be eligible for CalFresh, too. The Affordable Care Act brings an opportunity for our staff to renew efforts to find multiple ways families can get support that leads to self-sufficiency. Other entities at the state and federal levels are key pieces of the puzzle too. We have been working with Covered California and federal partners on procedures and technology that must work together to get people smoothly enrolled in coverage and receiving their federal tax subsidies. Our county computer system has to be able to connect with new state and federal computer systems built just in the last year.
All the pieces of the puzzle have to fit together. Of course, we know there will be challenges as new technology and procedures come together Oct. 1. Some challenges will have easy fixes, some will be more difficult to overcome.
Pat Cheadle is director of the Kern County Department of Human Services.