There is a widespread misimpression that the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) basically guaranteed health insurance for all Americans. Sadly, that is not the case, especially here in Virginia.
Obamacare tried to raise the income eligibility level for Medicaid coverage to 138 percent of the federal poverty level or $1,070 a month for an individual ($2,795 for a family of four). The Supreme Court, however, ruled that states must have the option to accept or reject this higher eligibility level. Thirty-one states have accepted this option and will receive 100 percent federal Medicaid funding for three years and 90 percent thereafter.
Virginia is one of the 19 states that have rejected this Medicaid option. To make matters worse, Virginia has one of the stingiest Medicaid programs in the country. In Virginia, non-disabled, childless adults are ineligible for Medicaid and parents are only eligible if their income is less than $10,908 annually for a family of four.
As a result, about 5,500 Alexandrians don’t have health insurance. A large percentage of them are the “working poor” who play a critical role in our economy. They put off getting health care, often at hospital emergency rooms, until their health problems become much worse and harder to treat.
I have concluded that Alexandria needs to step up to address this continuing and serious challenge. Our award-winning local community health center, Neighborhood Health, plays an essential role in providing health care to Alexandria’s poor and uninsured. Earlier this year, I convinced my City Council colleagues to increase the city’s assistance to Neighborhood Health by $102,641, which has enabled them to provide primary care services to an additional 700 uninsured adults with 1,500 health care visits. The council also restored cuts to dental services for the uninsured. We paid for this additional spending through an 11-cent increase in the local cigarette tax.
As a complement to this effort, I am proud to support the Free Community Health Fair that will be held on Saturday, Nov. 5, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at George Washington Middle School. Major Health Fair partners include: Neighborhood Health, the Alexandria City Public Schools, the Medical Society of Northern Virginia, ACT for Alexandria, Kaiser Permanente, the Alliance for Alexandria’s Uninsured, the Dental Society of Northern Virginia, and the A. Roy Heron Global Foundation for Community Wellness.
This Health Fair is designed to benefit Alexandria’s low-income uninsured residents through health screening and services that will get them into a system of care, especially with Neighborhood Health. It will facilitate, and not substitute for, followup primary care services.
Ideally, Virginia should accept the Obamacare Medicaid option. In the meantime, Alexandria should play a major role in providing health and hope to Alexandria’s uninsured.