A security officer enters the Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego emergency entrance.
A security officer enters the Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego emergency entrance. Photo by Chris Stone

COVID-19 has created a lot of anxiety and frustration for families. One source of confusion is the continually changing deadlines to re-enroll in Medi-Cal or individual Covered California subsidized health insurance policies. It’s unclear for many when they should do so.

My recommendation is to get the ball rolling now to avoid any confusion and ensure you continue to receive healthcare.

The state’s Medi-Cal program offers free or low-cost health coverage for low-income adults, families with children, seniors, persons with disabilities, pregnant women, children in foster care, and former foster youth up to age 26. Covered California, the health insurance marketplace where Californians can shop for health plans and access financial assistance, enables individuals and families to choose the health plan with the best services and value to them or find out if they qualify for Medi-Cal. As part of the Affordable Care Act enacted in 2010, insurance cannot be dropped or denied for pre-existing medical conditions.

Last month, the federal government issued a suspension of the requirement for patients to re-enroll in Medi-Cal in light of the pandemic. Still, the state’s system hasn’t caught up with the new directives yet, and patients continue to see negative actions affecting their coverage.

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Covered California extended enrollment verification for subsidized policies earlier this year, but that new deadline expires at the end of this week. It’s unclear if that date will continue to slide from the original January 31 deadline. Even if that happens, it will likely occur without much advance notice.

These conflicting directives can exacerbate an already anxious population grappling with the economic uncertainties of COVID. Additional stimulus packages may not come in time for some. Preserving your health insurance safety net can get lost in the melee of activities families must now undertake as they try to cope with the new normal.

The last thing you need to worry about in this pandemic is if you and your loved ones will be covered for medical emergencies if something happens. We strongly recommend re-enrolling (or signing up if your new situation warrants it) sooner rather than later.

While enrolling for Medi-Cal or Covered California can get complicated, individuals and families can navigate the process with free help from providers like Neighborhood Healthcare. You don’t need to be a patient to use this service. Before you call, though, gather any of the documents you received from Medi-Cal or Covered California to help expedite the process. The Certified Enrollment Counselors, fluent in English, Spanish, and Arabic, can assist you over the phone if you have all the paperwork. If not, they can still help you keep your coverage intact.

You and your family’s health are more important now than ever. Ensuring quality, compassionate care regardless of circumstance — particularly during COVID — can be done, but guaranteeing coverage takes action. I recommend it now.

Adrian Zavala is the senior director of marketing & community engagement for Neighborhood Healthcare, a community healthcare nonprofit organization for San Diego and Riverside Counties that provides quality, compassionate, whole-person care to everyone, regardless of their circumstance.