Tomorrow approximately 11,500 people in the Boston area will become enrolled in the new Commonwealth Care Bridge program – nearly a third of the 31,000 people who are categorized as special status immigrants and who, because of budget shortfalls, lost their access to health care coverage on September 1. We at Health Care For All have heard from many of these people and they are worried about what will become of their care tomorrow. They have spent the last month without health care coverage, and have been anxiously awaiting the details of this new program.
Health Care For All joined with advocates from all over Massachusetts who pushed to have adequate funding included in the state’s woeful budget to cover this group of legal, taxpaying state residents, who previously received care through Commonwealth Care. Our best efforts resulted in the legislature passing a $40 million appropriation, which is less than a third of what the state spent on coverage last year. So, the Bridge program begins as being severely underfunded.
The winning bid for the Bridge program was awarded to a for-profit insurer called CeltiCare. CeltiCare’s proposal included a benefit package that most closely mirrored, but was not identical to, the comprehensive benefits in Comm Care, and the proposal included some underwriting by CeltiCare’s parent company Centene that would supplement the $40 million of state money to cover the 31,000 people.
This is not ideal. We are worried about the breadth of the network available and the capacity for culturally appropriate care for this group. Most of the 31,000 people who are being moved into this new coverage program face the threat of being disconnected from their current health care providers. Today’s Globe covered this issue of the limited network being put in place by CeltiCare. Beth Israel Deaconess CEO Paul Levy writes eloquently today in his blog (“Immigrants left in the lurch again”) about the importance of providing care that meets the language and other specialized care needs of immigrants, and his fears that this will be lost as the CeltiCare network excludes his hospital along with Boston Medical Center and Cambridge Health Alliance.
I have been encouraged by what I have heard from the leadership of CeltiCare. We have repeatedly asked about the people who are in active treatment – meaning that they are in the midst of care for an ongoing issue like cancer, and have been assured that those individuals will be allowed to continue their care with their current provider team. (See the previous post for info and phone numbers about how to pursue individual cases, or call the HCFA Helpline with any concerns.)
What happens tomorrow, and then will be repeated on November 1st and finally on December 1st will be messy, and not perfect. Health Care For All’s primary concern is for the quality and continuity of care that the 31,000 individuals receive in the Bridge program. We will be monitoring this process closely and will be sure to raise alarm bells if they are needed. For-profit insurers are receiving tons of bad press these days. Here in Massachusetts 31,000 residents are counting on Celti-Care to provide thoughtful, accessible, culturally competent care.
-Amy Slemmer, Executive Director