Richmond Times Dispatch
Wednesday, October 9, 2013 12:00 am
On Oct. 1, I had the opportunity to participate in Enrollfest in Hampton Roads where at least 250 people came to learn more about the new Health Insurance Marketplace. Virginia Consumer Voices for Healthcare was one of several organizations that came to help educate and enroll people in health care coverage — some for the first time in their lives.
When I arrived, the atmosphere at the Boo Williams Sports Complex was festive. While the effort to educate and enroll Virginians in health care has been largely a grass-roots effort, clearly, word about the first day of enrollment had spread throughout our communities.
Polite and helpful custodial staff at the sports complex helped us carry in our items and arrange our space. The concession stand opened and attendees enjoyed hamburgers, fried fish and french fries. It felt a little bit like the church bazaars of my youth.
When the stream of people started coming by our table I was, at first, surprised to recognize some of the very same men who had helped us set up just an hour earlier. It was an emotional moment for me to see that the health care law that I have been working on for two years was finally going to make a real difference in the lives of many Virginians, including the very nice gentlemen who had provided me assistance earlier that day.
Then I met Brenda Harrell, a former hairstylist who lives in Hampton and came to Enrollfest hoping to find coverage. “I'm here to get some insurance,” Harrell said. “I've been out of work over a year, I have heart and respiratory failure, and I have been denied access to Medicaid. I haven't seen a doctor for my breathing for over a year.”
Harrell sat down with a certified application counselor but learned that her income of less than $10,000 a year is too much to qualify for Medicaid in Virginia and too little for a subsidy to help her buy a plan on the exchange.
The vast majority of Virginia adults who would gain health insurance under the Medicaid expansion are in low-paying jobs that don’t come with health insurance. Their pay is too low to afford private insurance but too high to qualify for Medicaid under current rules. Others who would benefit include returning veterans, low-income workers and workers who are in between jobs. Medicaid also provides low-wage workers with financial security by reducing the risk of medical debt.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly established the Virginia Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC) to evaluate Medicaid reforms and approve extension of Medicaid coverage. This gives MIRC the unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of 400,000 uninsured Virginians: veterans, working parents and other low-wage workers – including one woman in Hampton who is currently left out.
On Oct. 15, the members of MIRC will give citizens the opportunity to share their comments about the Medicaid expansion at a public hearing. Virginians also can submit their comments on the MIRC website at http://mirc.virginia.gov/.