Local officials, health care leaders celebrate Medicaid expansion open enrollment

Staff writer

Local legislators and leaders in Williamsburg’s medical and faith communities came together Thursday to mark the first day that around 400,000 Virginians now eligible for Medicaid will be able to apply for health insurance through the program.

State legislators passed Medicaid expansion during the special session of the General Assembly earlier this year, and Gov. Ralph Northam signed the expansion bill into law in June. Open enrollment for the program began Nov. 1, and Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, said the bill will expand Medicaid coverage to around 50,000 Hampton Roads residents who were previously ineligible for the program.

“Today is the result of eight years of prayer. Eight years of work, eight years of knocking on doors, making phone calls and voting," he said. “People who have applied before and been rejected, you need to apply again because there are whole new eligibility requirements.”

Eligible applicants can go to CoverVA.org to apply for Medicaid coverage. Virginians between the ages of 19 and 64 who are not already eligible for Medicare can qualify for the program, provided they meet all income requirements. Williamsburg Department of Human Services representative Michelle Taliaferro said state residents can earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, according to family size.

According to the CoverVA website, a single adult making up to $16,754 or a family of three making up to $28,677 can qualify for Medicaid. Coverage for new applicants goes into effect on Jan. 1.

The event was sponsored by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and the Williamsburg First Baptist Church, and brought together a panel of speakers including James City Board of Supervisors member John McGlennon, state delegate Mike Mullin, Mark Downey M.D. with the Pediatric Association of Williamsburg, Angels of Mercy executive director Jeff Black, Allison Brody with the Williamsburg Health Foundation, James City Social Services representative Charlene Collins and Michelle Taliaferro with the city’s department of human services.

Christine Payne, healthcare hope ambassador for the James River chapter of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said it is now the responsibility of the leaders of the area’s faith and medical communities to let their members know about the new program.

“Our role, as we see it, is to be a bridge for people in our community who may not know that the rules have changed,” she said.

Collins said the state sent out 1,671 letters to James City residents under local and state assistance programs last week letting them know that they now qualify for Medicaid.

“I can’t tell you how nervous I was when we took that vote,” said Mullin. “I was so excited about what we’re going to be able to achieve, and when that vote happened, the entire body stood up clapping. We reached across the aisle and 20 people from the other side came together with us to be able to expand Medicaid because it’s the right thing and the moral thing to do, and it’s the way that we can protect our community.”

Dr. Mark Downey said that the thousands of area residents who will now be able to receive low cost and no-cost health insurance for the first time need to be educated on the importance of seeking regular preventative care.

“Get in and see your doctor, get your vaccinations, monitor your blood pressure, do all of the things that people with health insurance do every day and don’t even think twice about it,” he said. “These folks haven’t had that opportunity for their entire adult lives.”

For more information about eligibility and how to apply for Medicaid under the new program, visit coverva.org/expansion.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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