By Ana B. Ibarra, CalMatters
To boost COVID-19 vaccination rates among California’s low-income residents, last year the state launched a $350 million incentive program. But since then, the gap between those Medi-Cal members and the general population has actually grown wider.
While 84% of all Californians 5 years and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, only about 57% of those in Medi-Cal, the health insurance program for low-income residents, have done so as of April, according to the latest vaccination update from the California Department of Health Care Services.
That’s a gap of 27 percentage points, and it’s slightly bigger than the gap recorded last summer.
In September, the state rolled out a six-month incentive program for Medi-Cal health plans to boost Covid vaccination rates among their 14 million members. CalMatters compared those health plans’ most recently published vaccination rates to what they looked like in August of 2021, before the start of the incentive program, to see how much each plan’s vaccination rates had grown in that time. This comparison looks at the 12 and over age group because vaccines for younger children were not available last summer.
Between last August and this April, the most improved Medi-Cal plan, CalViva in Fresno, Kings and Madera counties, went from 42% to 54% vaccinated members ages 12 and over. The plan with the lowest gains, United Healthcare Community Plan in San Diego County, went from 46% to 48%. Five Medi-Cal plans still have Covid vaccination rates under 50% — although that’s an improvement from last summer, when 11 plans were under the half mark.
The fact that rates are trending up is a good thing, but the growing gap between Medi-Cal members and the general population is concerning, said Kiran Savage-Sangwan, executive director at the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. “They’re not making the type of progress that one would hope for,” she said. “I think it’s possible that health plans may need to reevaluate their strategies.”
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