Opinion: Commentary: Much Still To Be Done

Opinion: Commentary: Much Still To Be Done

Governor Northam has signed a state budget that includes Medicaid expansion for low income Virginians. The significance of this development cannot be overstated. An estimated 300,000 people across the Commonwealth will obtain health insurance. This includes thousands of people in Northern Virginia, including many of our patients, families, and neighbors. For this, we are deeply grateful. We are grateful to our delegates and senators who approved Medicaid expansion. We are grateful to the advocates who helped bring about this change.

For over 20 years, our driving focus at Neighborhood Health has been to expand access to primary care for low income and uninsured Northern Virginians. Underpinning this work is our belief that everyone in our community — regardless of their income, background, or whether or not they have health insurance — should have access to health care.

We have served thousands of our neighbors over the years. In 2017, we served over 18,000 people, including more than 9,000 without insurance, in multiple clinics across the City of Alexandria, Arlington County, and Fairfax County. We provide them with high-quality primary care, including medical, dental, and behavioral health care.

A significant barrier, however, has been the lack of coverage for low-income adults, a result of extremely restrictive Medicaid eligibility criteria in Virginia. In our work with this population, we have witnessed up close the adverse effects of lacking coverage — whether through delays in care, preventable illnesses, or financial burdens that befall individuals and families at a time when they can least afford it.

For these individuals and families, Medicaid expansion will bring some measure of relief.

It is worth bearing in mind that health insurance, while a key factor in accessing health care, is not the only factor. Patients also need physicians, nurses, dentists, counselors, and other health care professionals who accept their insurance and can provide them with high quality and accessible care. Based on experience from other states, we also anticipate that a significant number of our neighbors will remain uninsured even after Medicaid expansion.

Meeting the needs of Northern Virginia's low-income patient population has been our work until now. It will continue to be our work. We will approach it with a renewed sense of urgency, both for those obtaining coverage for the first time as well as those remaining without coverage. We have been expanding capacity in Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax County. Our growth has spanned across all programs, including primary medical care as well as dental care, behavioral health, medication assistance, and HIV care. As we expand capacity, we will continue to count on your support.

Today, we are grateful to all those who made Medicaid expansion in Virginia possible. We are also grateful to all of you — our long-term supporters and partners.

We look forward to the work that lies ahead and to continuing it together with you.

More information on Neighborhood Health at www.neighborhoodhealthva.org/