Category Archives: Blog

A Tribute to The Affordable Care Act on Its Birthday

Written by Director Karen Cameron

Sometimes I just can’t believe that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed five years ago and, for the first time since I was diagnosed with diabetes at 13 years of age, I don’t have to worry about losing group health insurance. Before the ACA, I went a total of about three years without health insurance – the first time for a year when I graduated from college and could only find a full-time job that offered no coverage to “temporary” employees and then again when I was in graduate school and during its required year long residency. What I could buy on the private market would have cost more than a third of my income and would not have covered costs associated with my diabetes. So I, like well more than half a million people in Virginia today, was forced to play Russian Roulette with my health, purchasing my medication and supplies with cash and praying I wouldn’t get really sick and/or have lifelong bills I couldn’t pay.

 Today, thanks to the ACA, I can’t be charged more for health insurance just because I happen to have a chronic disease or because I am a woman. I could even get help paying for it if I couldn’t afford what was available to me. Young people, like me when I was uninsured, can stay on their parent’s insurance until they are 26. I can go to most restaurants and know how many calories are in my meal choices. I can get important annual screenings and a primary care visit without having to meet a deductible or paying out of pocket. All of this allows me, and my fellow Americans, to stay healthy and remain a tax paying, productive member of society.

All one has to do is remember the spiraling costs of health care and the increasing number of Americans who couldn’t afford to get or keep health insurance for decades prior to the ACA to appreciate its value and what it has meant for the health and well being of our citizens and our economy. It took real leadership for our President and members of Congress, many who lost their seats to do the right thing and support the ACA, to make something significant happen to address our health care access and cost problems. We can’t afford to turn back the clock.

General Assembly 2015: Unsatisfactory

Written by Policy Analyst, Erin Steigleder

The 2015 General Assembly session was a mixed bag for health care advocates. The legislature again refused to close the coverage gap, leaving millions of dollars on the table and leaving hundreds of thousands of Virginians without access to affordable health insurance. The best the legislature could muster were band-aids in the form of additional funding to community health centers and free clinics and limited benefits for those with severe mental illness (SMI).

Let’s be clear: More funding for our health care safety net is absolutely needed, and providing coverage, even limited coverage, to those with SMI will make a huge difference in their lives and in our state. The problem is that these steps just don’t make a significant impact on Virginia’s health status, unnecessarily add to Virginia’s taxpayers’ burden, and are certainly not the most cost-effective ways to address the problem.

During this General Assembly session, VCV worked  with other advocates to ensure that the revised budget included the Governor’s Access Plan (GAP) for people with SMI. When the GAP plan was proposed by Governor McAuliffe and approved as a Medicaid waiver program, it:

  • provided mental health and limited medical benefits for those with SMI with an income up to 100% of FPL ($11,670 annual income for an individual)
  • would benefit up to 20,000 Virginians.
The final budget agreement looks like this:
  • lowered the income level for eligibility for the program to 60% of FPL ($7,602 for an individual)
  • is predicted to serve up to 22,000 Virginians.

The GAP program will be funded through a partnership with the federal government, just like standard Medicaid, at a match rate of 50%. This means that for every state dollar spent on services for the program participants, the federal government will kick in a dollar. If our legislature had decided to close the coverage gap, the program recipients would have been able to access full Medicaid services at no cost to the state until 2017. Now, we are paying more than we need to in order to provide a lower level of care in a less efficient way.

Perhaps recognizing that they had not addressed the needs of the many other uninsured persons, the legislature added $4.1 million to the Governor’s proposed funding to the community health centers and free clinics next year. It appears that many legislators think that the safety net funding increase would fix the problem of people having trouble accessing health care, making increased access to Medicaid coverage unnecessary.

There are two major flaws with this idea:
  • Free clinics and community health centers very rarely provide specialty services, like cancer treatment, rehabilitation or surgery, and never provide inpatient care;
  • Expanding Medicaid would have brought in millions of federal tax dollars (including increased dollars to community health centers) that could have improved access and the health status of more than ten times as many Virginians without additional state expenditures.

Kentucky is one of the 28 states that decided to use those federal dollars and increase access to their state’s Medicaid program. They took advantage of the 100% funding from the federal government for their new enrollees, and Kentuckians have experienced a huge benefit. Not only did Kentucky have the second-largest drop in their uninsured rate (and now have a lower percentage of uninsured than Virginia), but the increased access to Medicaid is predicted to result in an infusion of $30.1 billion to Kentucky’s economy by 2021. And Kentucky isn’t the only state to reap these huge benefits. The 24 states that began their expanded Medicaid programs on January 1st of last year saw the healthcare job sector grow 30% faster than they did in other states that didn’t expand.

Virginia is not reaping either the social or economic benefits from the opportunity to increase access to our Medicaid program. Instead of closing the coverage gap, we are providing vital health care services to only a fraction of the people in need at a higher cost.  The Virginia legislature used to distinguish itself from the partisan politics in Washington and make rational decisions based on the needs of Virginians, but no longer. Virginians need our legislators to do the right thing, morally and economically, and close the coverage gap in 2016.

Open Enrollment ends February 15th!

Program Manager, Allie Atkeson with Commonwealth Covered students from Virginia Tech

Program Manager, Allie Atkeson with Commonwealth Covered students from Virginia Tech

Across Virginia organizations and volunteers have been working hard to make sure uninsured folks get enrolled in the Health Insurance Marketplace. With the deadline for open enrollment approaching on February 15, 2015 it is crucial to make sure that community members get the coverage they need. So far, approximately 9.9 million Americans and nearly 330,000 Virginians have selected or been automatically re-enrolled into a 2015 health insurance plan through healthcare.gov.

Commonwealth Covered chapters at Ferrum College, Virginia Tech, University of Richmond and William and Mary are working in their communities to connect consumers with coverage. On January 29th the Virginia Tech chapter students partnered with Enroll Virginia in Rocky Mount, VA to sign community members up for health insurance. One woman was able to get coverage for just $17 a month!

In Richmond and Hampton Roads, Gaylene Kanoyton with Celebrate Healthcare has organized “Enrollfests” – community health fairs with in-person assistance to help people enroll in plans on the Federal Marketplace. New federal figures show that 55,165 consumers in Richmond and 53,801 consumers in the Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Newport News region have selected a plan for the first time or re-enrolled.

Northern Virginia residents sign up at the Arlington Mill Center.

Northern Virginia residents sign up at the Arlington Mill Center.

In Northern Virginia, Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS) uses their 100 volunteers to help consumers enrollduring their “Sign Up Saturday” events. With five locations, NVFS has a broad reach and specializes in helping immigrant communities. Their Certified Application Counselors supported two large Enroll Virginia events at the Arlington Mill center with Delegate Alfonzo Lopez. 

If you or someone you know needs health insurance, visit healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 for assistance 24/7. You can also visit our calendar to find an enrollment event near you. Moreover, you can get weekly updates from Virginia Consumer Voices for Healthcare by signing up on our listserve at: http://www.vaconsumervoices.org/join-us/

 

Chirp, Chirp…

OEE1

Residents of Prince William County, Virginia fill-out health care applications at the Greater Prince William Community Health Center, Evergreen Terrace Site, in Manassas, Va. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Do you hear those crickets? That is the sound of a successful open enrollment launch. The press has kept mostly quiet about the start of this year’s open enrollment. On November 15th, 2014 Healthcare.gov opened up for consumers to review, renew and pick new plans and unlike last year, folks were able to enroll starting on the first day.

VCV is working with partners around the state to ensure that Virginians are aware of their options for health coverage.

In Hampton Roads our partner Gaylene Kanoyton of Celebrate Healthcare organized an Enrollfest with over 200 attendees. One consumer Beatrice was able to enroll in a plan for just $66 dollars a month! Additionally, students from William and Mary’s Commonwealth Covered chapter were able assist with Celebrate Healthcare’s enrollment events.

In Northern Virginia, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell visited the Greater Prince William Community Health Center, Evergreen Terrace Site, in Manassas. Certified Applications Counselors with Northern Virginia Family Service and the community health center worked to connect consumers with coverage. According to the Federal Government 500,000 people logged on to healthcare.gov while about 100,000 submitted an application.

If you or someone you know needs health insurance visit healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 for assistance 24/7. You can also visit our calendar to find an enrollment event near you.

Wise County: Health care in a horse stall

Richmond Times-Dispatch | Guest Columnist | Allie Atkeson | Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2014 10:30 pm

In an effort to better understand how low-income, uninsured Virginians access health care, my co-worker and I drove to Wise County in Southwest Virginia last week to volunteer with Remote Area Medical. RAM was started by philanthropist Stan Brock to “prevent pain and alleviate suffering by providing free quality health care to those who cannot afford it.” RAM — in partnership with the Health Wagon — has a long history of organizing much-needed clinics in Southwest Virginia.

We were joined by more than 1,000 other volunteers, many of whom were from Richmond. The event was held at the Wise County fairgrounds, and volunteers arrived as early as a week in advance to clean barns and horse stalls and set up large tents where Virginians would receive their health care.

When I arrived on Thursday I was assigned the task of sorting needles for dental procedures.

That night, 1,200 people waited in line to receive medical, dental and vision care. The volunteers gathered at the grandstand where we sang “God Bless America” and the national anthem before eating dinner together.

When the clinic started the following day, it could only be described as a war zone.

Thousands rushed into the fairgrounds for their one-day-a-year opportunity to access care. I escorted patients from triage to the various services offered. The majority of patients needed dental care, and the dental operation, put on by the Virginia Dental Association Foundation’s Missions of Mercy clinic, was a machine.

Workers quickly triaged patients and assigned them to their care category: cleanings, fillings or extractions. I was surprised at the number of patients with an orange “extractions” band around their wrist — young adults (my own age) looking to have the majority of their teeth removed and replaced with dentures.

When your last resort is sitting under a tent in the rain, mouth wide open to have your teeth pulled, surely this cannot be the best health care system in the world.

The dental situation was the most shocking: 3.8 million Virginians do not have dental insurance, and unfortunately Virginia’s opportunity to expand coverage to up to 400,000 low-income adults will not provide dental coverage.

However, if the General Assembly chooses to accept federal funding to expand our Medicaid program, 2,300 individuals in Wise County and thousands more in Southwest Virginia could access high quality health care year-round outside of the fairgrounds.

I volunteered for several summers down in Louisiana and Mississippi repairing houses and schools after Hurricane Katrina and would also describe the RAM clinic as disaster relief. It’s a different kind of disaster — one that has occurred over a period of time in the form of job loss, high unemployment and now a public health crisis.

I am proud to be a Virginian and am in many ways a product of the state. I was born here, grew up here, attended public school and a public university in the commonwealth.

But while I was in the Wise County fairgrounds escorting my fellow Virginians to receive medical care in a horse stall, it was hard to feel proud.

Remote Area Medical fills a gap that the assembly could have prevented. Virginians deserve better.

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