Bay Area Celebrates Medi-Cal 50th Anniversary with Sen. Mark Leno

By Steven Maviglio

State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), California Dept. of Health Care Services Director Jennifer Kent, and other state and local leaders today joined the San Francisco Health Plan, Health Plan of San Mateo, and the consumer advocacy group Health Access to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Medi-Cal.

The community event marked the five decades since California established the Medi-Cal program to provide comprehensive health insurance to low-income families. In San Francisco and San Mateo counties, amongst the wealthiest regions of California, more than one quarter of a million low to moderate-income people rely on Medi-Cal for health insurance.

“As a long time champion of Medi-Cal, I understand its importance in helping millions of Californians live longer, healthier lives,” said Sen. Leno, chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee. “It is truly one of California’s greatest triumphs.”

“Medi-Cal has unquestionably played a significant role in improving the overall health and well-being of Californians over the past 50 years,” said Jennifer Kent, Director of DHCS. “While it is important to look back on the accomplishments of the last half century, we are extremely excited to help lead our program through the many challenges and changes we’ll face in the coming years.”

“Medi-Cal provides quality health care services and peace of mind to the working people of the San Francisco Bay Area that are struggling to make ends meet,” said John Grgurina Jr., CEO of the San Francisco Health Plan. “Without this program, and the countless dedicated people that serve them, over 250,000 people in San Francisco and San Mateo counties would lose access to health insurance and the critical services that Medi-Cal provides.”

“Medi-Cal provides incredibly important resources for public hospitals and health systems so that we can serve the entire community,” said Susan Ehrlich, CEO, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. “It is a critically important resource for our patients to have access to more health care services and have better health as a result.”

San Francisco resident Elia Fernandez, a member of the San Francisco Health Plan, told attendees Medi-Cal coverage on multiple occasions saved her from having to pay costly medical bills. In 2014 and 2015, Fernandez was the victim of severe automobile accidents that left her critically injured. During the second accident, her body was struck by a car and thrown 9 feet down the street.

“Without coverage from Medi-Cal and the help of the San Francisco Health Plan, it would have been extremely difficult for me to pay the medical bills for these accidents,” said Fernandez who is a lifetime San Francisco resident and has three daughters who were all covered by Medi-Cal. “Thanks to Medi-Cal there was a safety net there for me and it reduced what would have amounted to a lot of stress for me and my family.”

“Covering one out of every three Californians, Medi-Cal deserves celebration as well as investment and improvement, as a key pillar of the health system on which we all rely,” said Anthony Wright, Executive Director of Health Access, the statewide health consumer advocacy coalition. “For the last half-century, this program has served as a crucial lifeline for millions of California children, parents, seniors and people with disabilities. With recent expansions under the Affordable Care Act, Medi-Cal is now a safety-net for all Californians, including for those who lose income or are between jobs. On this 50thanniversary, California needs to recommit to protect and promote Medi-Cal, to invest and improve it, for the next half-century.”

“California county human services agencies are a vital partner in successfully meeting the increased demand for high-quality health care. The Human Services Agency’s local implementation of the landmark Affordable Care Act nearly doubled our enrollment, resulting in one in four San Francisco residents receiving Medi-Cal benefits,” said Trent Rhorer, Executive Director of the San Francisco Human Services Agency. “This challenge is met by addressing the diverse needs and backgrounds of our state’s most vulnerable populations.”

Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid health care program. This program pays for a variety of medical services for children and adults with limited income and resources. Medi-Cal is supported by federal and state taxes.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare program into law on July 30, 1965. Medi-Cal was established on March 1, 1966, with the then-Office of Health Care Services established within the then-Health and Welfare Agency on July 7, 1966.