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All About Medi-Cal: Understanding California’s Medicaid Program


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What is Medi-Cal? If you’re seeking basic understanding, Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program, designed to offer medical services at little or no cost to low-income individuals. It encompasses a wide range of health services including doctor visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs, and more. This program plays a critical role in ensuring that over 14 million Californians have access to essential healthcare services.

Medi-Cal, as a cornerstone of health accessibility in California, not only supports physical well-being but also ensures public health security and financial protection against high medical costs for its beneficiaries. Its extensive coverage is essential for maintaining the health of the state’s diverse population, which includes elderly individuals, children, and those with disabilities.

At OC Elder Law, we understand the unique challenges faced by seniors in navigating healthcare options. Our firm specializes in helping you and your family understand Medi-Cal, address eligibility concerns, and integrate it within broader estate and health planning to ensure peace of mind and family harmony.

Detailed infographic of Medi-Cal’s covered services and the basic steps to apply - what is medi-cal infographic pillar-5-steps

What is Medi-Cal?

Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program, designed to offer health care services to low-income individuals and families at little to no cost. This program is crucial for those who do not have the financial means to afford private health insurance. Here’s a breakdown of the key components of Medi-Cal:


To qualify for Medi-Cal, applicants must meet specific income criteria which vary based on factors like age, household size, and disability status. For instance, families, elderly, persons with disabilities, and pregnant women can qualify if their income is at or below 138% of the Federal Poverty Level. Importantly, eligibility extends to all low-income Californians under the age of 65, including undocumented adults, making California the first state to offer such comprehensive coverage.


Medi-Cal provides a comprehensive range of medical services including doctor visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs, mental health care, and more. Dental care through Denti-Cal, vision services, and long-term care are also covered. This wide-ranging coverage ensures that beneficiaries receive necessary medical attention without the burden of unmanageable costs.

DHCS (Department of Health Care Services)

The California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) administers Medi-Cal. This state department is responsible for overseeing the program, ensuring that eligible Californians receive their health benefits, and managing the state’s health care budget effectively.

No-cost benefits

One of the major advantages of Medi-Cal is that most services are offered at no cost to the beneficiaries. This is particularly important for preventive services which are fully covered, encouraging individuals to seek timely medical care without worrying about expenses.

At OC Elder Law, we assist seniors and their families in understanding what is Medi-Cal, determining eligibility, and maximizing the benefits available to them. Our expertise ensures that navigating Medi-Cal’s offerings is straightforward and stress-free, allowing seniors to focus on their health and well-being without financial anxieties. Understanding Medi-Cal is the first step toward accessing essential health services that can significantly enhance quality of life.

In the next section, we’ll explore how Medi-Cal compares to other health programs, providing you with a clear picture to make informed decisions about your healthcare needs.

Medi-Cal vs. Other Health Programs

When comparing Medi-Cal to other health programs, it’s important to understand the unique features and funding sources of each. This helps in making informed decisions about which program best suits your needs.


Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid, a federal-state program providing health coverage to low-income individuals and families. While each state tailors Medicaid to its residents, Medi-Cal includes additional benefits and broader coverage, making it one of the most comprehensive Medicaid programs in the U.S.


Medicare is a federal program mainly for people aged 65 and older, regardless of income. It covers hospital care (Part A) and medical services (Part B), with optional drug coverage (Part D) and Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C). Unlike Medi-Cal, Medicare is generally not income-based and covers individuals who have paid into the system through payroll taxes during their working years.

Covered California

Covered California is the state’s marketplace for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), offering a variety of plans with different levels of coverage. While Medi-Cal provides no-cost or low-cost coverage based on income, Covered California offers insurance plans with premium costs adjusted by income-based subsidies to make them more affordable.

Federal and State Funding

Medi-Cal is jointly funded by the federal and state government. The federal government contributes a percentage of the program’s costs, which varies by state and is determined by the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP). California supplements this with state funds to expand and enhance Medi-Cal services beyond federal minimum requirements.

Comparison Table:

ProgramEligibility CriteriaCoverage TypeFunding Source
Medi-CalLow-income individuals and familiesComprehensive HealthFederal and State
MedicareMostly aged 65+Hospital, MedicalFederal
Covered CAGeneral public, income-based subsidies for affordabilityInsurance MarketplaceFederal (subsidies) and Individual Premiums

Understanding these differences is crucial when considering what is Medi-Cal and how it fits into the broader landscape of health programs available in California. Each program is designed to meet different needs, from financial assistance based on income (Medi-Cal and Covered California) to providing healthcare for older adults (Medicare).

In the next section, we will delve into the specifics of how to apply for Medi-Cal, ensuring you have the necessary information to begin the enrollment process effectively.

How to Apply for Medi-Cal

Applying for Medi-Cal is a process that can open the door to comprehensive health coverage for those who qualify. Here’s a straightforward guide on how to apply, including details on the online application process, what documents you’ll need, and understanding income limits.

Online Application

The quickest and most convenient way to apply for Medi-Cal is online. You can visit, which is the official site managed by the County Welfare Directors Association of California. Here, you can create an account, fill out the application, and submit it digitally. The platform is user-friendly and guides you through each step.

County Offices

If you prefer a more personal touch or need assistance, you can apply in person at your local county social services office. This option is beneficial if you have specific questions or complex situations. To find your nearest office, you can visit the California Department of Health Care Services website which provides a comprehensive directory.

Required Documents

When applying for Medi-Cal, you will need to gather several important documents:

  • Social Security numbers for all applicants (or document numbers for immigrants without a Social Security number).
  • Proof of income, such as recent pay stubs or a tax return.
  • Federal tax information, including filing status and dependents.
  • Proof of California residency, such as a utility bill or rental agreement.
  • Identification, such as a driver’s license or passport.

Having these documents ready will streamline the application process and help avoid delays.

Income Limits

Medi-Cal eligibility is primarily determined by your household income. Here are the maximum income levels allowed for eligibility as of the latest guidelines:

  • 1 person household: $20,030 per year
  • 2 person household: $27,186 per year
  • 3 person household: $34,341 per year
  • 4 person household: $41,496 per year

Each additional person in the household raises the income threshold by approximately $7,000. It’s crucial to check current figures as these can change annually.

By understanding these key aspects of the Medi-Cal application process, you can better prepare and ensure a smoother experience. The next section will explore the benefits and services provided by Medi-Cal, helping you make the most of your coverage once approved.

Medi-Cal Benefits and Services

When you’re approved for Medi-Cal, you gain access to a comprehensive range of health care services designed to meet diverse medical needs. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect:

Essential Health Benefits

Medi-Cal covers a wide array of essential health services to ensure beneficiaries receive comprehensive care. These benefits include:

  • Ambulatory patient services: Outpatient care without being admitted to a hospital.
  • Emergency services: Immediate treatment in urgent or emergency situations.
  • Hospitalization: Treatment in hospitals for inpatient care, including surgeries.
  • Maternity and newborn care: Services during pregnancy, throughout delivery, and post-delivery care.
  • Mental health and substance use disorder treatment: Includes counseling and psychotherapy.

Dental and Vision

Dental (Denti-Cal) and vision care are also integral parts of Medi-Cal, offering services beyond basic health coverage:

  • Denti-Cal: Provides comprehensive dental services to adults, which is a notable benefit as not all states offer adult dental care under Medicaid. Services range from routine check-ups to more complex procedures like root canals.
  • Vision: Coverage includes eye exams and eyeglass prescriptions, ensuring that vision care is accessible to those who need it.

Managed Care Plans

The majority of Medi-Cal beneficiaries are enrolled in managed care plans. These plans are similar to HMOs where you receive most or all of your care from a network provider. California has several models of managed care, which vary by county:

  • County Organized Health System (COHS): One health plan per county.
  • Two-plan model: One community and one commercial health plan.
  • Geographic Managed Care: Multiple plans per county.
  • Regional Managed Care: 1-2 commercial plans in many counties.

These plans are designed to streamline care and provide comprehensive services through a network of providers.

Fee-for-Service (FFS)

Under the fee-for-service model, health care providers are paid by the state for each service rendered to patients. This model represents about 14.5% of all Medi-Cal enrollees as of December 2022. It allows for direct payment to providers for services like doctor visits, tests, and procedures.

Understanding these benefits and service structures is crucial for making the most out of your Medi-Cal coverage. Whether you’re looking for routine dental care or need more specialized services, Medi-Cal aims to ensure that you have access to the necessary health care services. Next, we’ll address some common questions about Medi-Cal to help clarify any doubts and provide deeper insights into the program.

Common Questions about Medi-Cal

What’s the difference between Medi-Cal and Medicaid?

Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid, the federal health program that provides health care services to low-income individuals and families. While Medicaid is a national program, each state operates its own version with specific rules and coverage options. Medi-Cal aligns with these national Medicaid guidelines but tailors its services and eligibility requirements to better suit the residents of California. For instance, Medi-Cal offers programs like the California Children’s Services (CCS) and services for pregnant women that are specific to state needs.

How much is Medi-Cal per month?

Medi-Cal coverage typically comes at no cost or at a low cost to eligible individuals and families, depending on their income levels. The exact cost can vary, as Medi-Cal evaluates each applicant’s financial situation to determine if there should be any share of cost. For many enrollees, particularly those under certain income thresholds, there is no monthly premium. This makes Medi-Cal a vital resource for health care for millions of Californians, ensuring that financial barriers do not prevent access to necessary medical services.

Is Medi-Cal the same as Medicare?

Medi-Cal and Medicare are different programs. Medicare is a federal program mainly for people over the age of 65, regardless of income, and also serves younger individuals with certain disabilities. On the other hand, Medi-Cal is designed to assist low-income individuals and families across all age groups. However, many Californians qualify for both Medi-Cal and Medicare; these individuals are known as “dual eligibles.” For these people, Medi-Cal often covers the out-of-pocket costs that Medicare does not cover, such as copayments and deductibles.

The distinctions between these programs highlight the importance of understanding what each program offers and how they can complement each other, especially for those who may qualify for more than one type of health coverage. Continuing forward, we’ll delve deeper into how you can apply for Medi-Cal and what you need to know to navigate the process smoothly.


Medi-Cal stands as a cornerstone of health coverage in California, offering comprehensive care to millions of residents who might otherwise face the daunting challenge of accessing essential healthcare services without financial strain. Understanding what is Medi-Cal and how it envelops an extensive range of services is crucial for anyone looking to leverage this program.

Comprehensive Coverage

Medi-Cal is more than just a health insurance program; it’s a lifeline that provides broad health services including doctor visits, hospital care, preventive care, pregnancy-related services, and even long-term care. The inclusion of dental and vision care under Medi-Cal further underscores its role in promoting comprehensive health and wellness across diverse populations in California. This wide-reaching coverage ensures that individuals and families, regardless of income, have access to necessary medical services, which are critical to maintaining and improving health outcomes.

Applying for Medi-Cal

Applying for Medi-Cal is a process designed with accessibility in mind. Eligible Californians can apply online, in person, or by mail. The application process involves providing documentation related to income, residency, and household size, which Medi-Cal uses to determine your eligibility and the extent of coverage you receive. For detailed guidance and assistance through the application process, resources are available through various county offices and online platforms like

OC Elder Law Support

At OC Elder Law, we understand the complexities involved in navigating Medi-Cal planning and applications. Our dedicated team is here to ensure that you or your loved ones can access the benefits of Medi-Cal without undue stress or confusion. Whether you’re applying for the first time, renewing your benefits, or transitioning from another health program, our experts provide personalized support tailored to meet your specific needs.

Our commitment is to help you understand the full scope of Medi-Cal benefits and to assist in safeguarding your rights to adequate healthcare. With our expertise, we aim to simplify the legal and procedural maze of Medi-Cal, making it more accessible for everyone. We encourage you to reach out to us for any questions or assistance with your Medi-Cal planning needs.

In conclusion, Medi-Cal’s comprehensive coverage is essential for many Californians, providing crucial healthcare services that support health and well-being. Applying for Medi-Cal can seem daunting, but with the right guidance and support, such as that provided by OC Elder Law, you can navigate the process with confidence. Understanding and accessing Medi-Cal benefits is a step towards ensuring long-term health security for you and your family.