Medi-Cal Enrollment Increases Rapidly in Recession

Medi-Cal, the nation’s largest Medicaid program, swelled to 7 million beneficiaries this year. Since the recession officially began in July 2007, the rate at which Californians have become eligible for Medi-Cal has steadily escalated.

From May 2007 to May 2008, Medi-Cal enrollment increased by 2.1 percent. But from May 2008 to May 2009, the most recent month for which complete data are available, the pace at which Californians became eligible for the program more than doubled to 4.9 percent. The increasing number of children and families qualifying for the program parallels the steep rise in California’s unemployment rate, which was 12.2 percent in September 2009, up from 5.3 percent at the beginning of the recession.

As California continues to struggle with its budget and dives into another difficult budget year, it will be important for policymakers to keep in mind the countercyclical nature of public programs such as Medi-Cal: In times of scarce resources, the need for those programs becomes even more acute.

— Hanh Kim Quach and Raul Macias

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