LOS ANGELES (Nov. 19, 2014) — As many as 200,000 Medi-Cal recipients will be shocked to learn they are losing their health care benefits at the end of this month. In Los Angeles County alone, close to 100,000 Medi-Cal families will get termination notices around November 20. The notices will be the first of several waves of terminations by the state, which is moving to push people off Medi-Cal because they didn’t complete renewal forms.
But many of those being terminated had no way of knowing they had to complete the forms, which the state for the first time this year failed to translate into the primary languages spoken by many Californians. The state’s renewal forms—already some of the most confusing in the nation—were incomprehensible to many recipients who were used to getting the forms in their language. Over 40 percent of Medi-Cal beneficiaries identify a primary language other than English.
“It’s a serious language access issue. The State is obligated to provide language access services to these communities,” said Doreena Wong, Director of the Health Access Project at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. Some of the languages where translations are required by law include Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Hmong, Cambodian, Arabic, and Farsi.
“State officials are moving forward with the terminations even though they know many of these recipients remain eligible for Medi-Cal,” said Cori Racela, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County. “The sheer number of imminent terminations threatens to undermine the progress we’ve made expanding benefits under Obamacare.”
Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLS), along with Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA), Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) and other legal groups, sued the state Monday to halt the terminations. Longstanding state and federal laws clearly state California cannot cut Medi-Cal benefits without first determining a recipient is no longer eligible. In order to prevent eligible beneficiaries from losing their Medi-Cal benefits during implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Congress and the California Legislature supplemented those laws with additional consumer protections.
Recognizing the need for time to develop a fair and equitable process for beneficiaries to renew their benefits, the state and counties have postponed the renewal process for many months. However, this has left recipients thinking they did not need to take any action in order to keep their insurance. That, together with the state’s failure to translate notices and provide adequate interpreter services, has resulted in record low numbers of timely renewals. The State has reported that in some counties’ renewal rates are as low as 50 percent, down from 80 to 60 percent in prior years. What’s more, the state’s termination notices do not include required information about the 90-day window allowing recipients to restore benefits.
“Californians who do not speak or read English still have a right to understand their Medi-Cal information fully and completely. Cutting off people’s Medi-cal insurance without first making sure they understand their rights is not only illegal but harmful to individuals and families who need critical medical services,” said Helen Tran, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County.
The coalition of legal groups—including Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – LA, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Kirkland and Ellis LLP, and Bay Area Legal Aid —brought the lawsuit on behalf of nonprofit organizations that help people with limited-English proficiency (LEP) access their health benefits. Community members seeking assistance at the Korean Community Center of the East Bay (KCCEB) and the Los Angeles-based Korean Resource Center (KRC) never got renewal forms in their own language, and have found the State’s interpreter services to be inadequate.
“Many of our partners who work with limited English proficient populations, including KRC and KCCEB, have experienced cultural and linguistic barriers when accessing health services. In light of these reports, we call on the State to do its duty to translate Medi-Cal renewal packets and termination notices into different languages, ” said Joann Lee, Directing Attorney at LAFLA.
“Given our own limited staff capacity, we will not be able to absorb the additional need for assistance once Medi-Cal terminations begin,” said June Lee, the Korean Community Center’s Executive Director. “If these terminations move forward, many people will be left without access to crucial health services.”
Korean Resource Center Executive Director Hee Joo Yoon stated, “fundamental rights should not be infringed based on language. This is especially true for recipients of Medi-Cal, which is the lifeline for many low-income individuals.” Explaining the need for litigation, Ms. Yoon continued, “with such a significant number affected in our communities, the State’s refusal to act must be stopped.”
While the court did not grant an emergency order to halt the terminations, the issue will be heard by a judge on December 9. People receiving termination notices who need assistance should contact their local legal aid program at (888) 804-3536.
People who need assistance in specific languages can also contact the following numbers:
Spanish and English: (800) 896-3202 (NLS); 1-800-399-4529 (LAFLA); (888) 349-9695 (Advancing Justice-LA)
Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese): (800) 520-2356 (Advancing Justice-LA); (323) 801-7912 or (800) 520-2356 (LAFLA);
Korean: (323) 801-7987 (LAFLA) or (800) 867-3640 (Advancing Justice-LA);
Vietnamese: (800) 267-7395 (Advancing Justice-LA); (323) 801-7923 or (800) 267-7395 (LAFLA);
Cambodian/Khmer: (213) 640-3887 or (800) 867-3126 (LAFLA); (800) 867-3126 (Advancing Justice-LA)
Thai: (800) 914-9583 (Advancing Justice-LA), (800) 914-9583 (LAFLA);
Japanese: (323) 801-7913 (LAFLA)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles is the nation’s largest Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) legal and civil rights organization and serves more than 15,000 individuals and organizations every year. Founded in 1983 as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Advancing Justice – LA’s mission is to advocate for civil rights, provide legal services and education, and build coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and to create a more equitable and harmonious society. Through direct legal services, impact litigation, policy analysis and advocacy, leadership development and capacity building, Advancing Justice – LA seeks to serve the most vulnerable members of the AANHPI community while also building a strong AANHPI voice for civil rights and social justice.