Coaxing the Coachella Valley to Sign Up for Insurance

By Suzanne Potter

The Inland Empire is on track to meet the state’s goal of enrolling 76,069 people from the region into plans from the Covered California insurance exchange, according to figures just released.  Enrollment hit 39,474 during the first half of the sign-up period, which is 52% of the goal.

A big part of the effort in the Coachella Valley is a push by local hospitals to enroll the uninsured before the deadline of March 31st.

Efren Tenorio, 52, lost his health insurance when he got laid off a year and a half ago from his job as Transportation Director at a local school district.  Tenorio said, “I’ve got diabetes, high blood pressure, the residual effects of Bell’s palsy… I’ve got to get some type of coverage. With no income I’m eating up my savings for my house payments, car payments, etc.”

So Tenorio stopped by JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio recently to get help signing up for health insurance through the website   A trained navigator walked him through the process, and they discovered that Tenorio is eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor.  Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), California expanded the maximum income requirements to cover more people.  A family can now make up to 138% of the federal poverty level and be eligible for Medi-Cal.  Families making between 138% and 400% of the federal poverty level can get subsidies that apply to the insurance coverage offered on the Covered California exchange.  A single person making up to $45,960 would qualify for a subsidy.

Local hospitals are making a big effort to help people like Tenorio sign up for insurance, in part because hospitals have traditionally had to absorb the cost of uninsured patients who can’t pay their bills.  Tenet Healthcare, which runs JFK and Desert Regional Medical Center, sponsored the workshop as part of a Tenet program called Path to Health.  About 35 people signed up, and 40 did so at a similar event in Palm Springs.  The hospitals also employ certified health counselors who take appointments on an ongoing basis and approach patients who come in without insurance.


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