Thousands in Virginia now eligible for Medicaid enrollment: ‘People don’t choose to be sick’

RICHMOND, Va - After a years-long battle at the state capitol, eligible low-income Virginians can begin enrolling Medicaid, a government sponsored healthcare program.  Now, adults 19-64 with incomes slightly above of the federal poverty line qualify for low or no cost healthcare coverage.

How do I know if I'm eligible now?

The new Medicaid eligibility requirements are based on a person's income and the number of dependents in their family.

SOURCE: Va Department of Medical Assistance Services

SOURCE: Va Department of Medical Assistance Services

Healthcare advocates said many individuals who have applied of Medicaid in the past and were denied could now be eligible.  In other instances, the parent of a child who is covered under Medicaid could now be eligible, and advocates said those who receive SNAP benefits likely qualify.

"If you've got a yellow envelope that you've received in the last week or so, that is a signal that you will probably qualify for Medicaid come January 1st," said Jill Hanken, Director of ENROLL! Virginia.

Virginia officials estimate more than 400,000 people qualify for Medicaid statewide, and local leaders said at least 34,000 people in the Richmond region are now eligible.

You can check your eligibility at coverva.org/ or by calling 1-855-242-8282.  Enrollment is underway, but coverage does not beginning until January 1st.

"It puts flesh to the golden rule, loving our neighbors as ourselves," said Kim Bobo, Director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

Local carpenter finds out he now qualifies for Medicaid

James Servis works as a carpenter, and health is a critical component of his work.  Last year, Servis experienced a health issue so severe, it caused him months of pain, stress, and financial uncertainty.

"Extreme pain in my joints, my hands, my feet, my wrists. It quickly progressed to where I was almost unable to walk. I couldn't hold a coffee cup," Servis said.

The father of seven does not have health insurance.

"My employer doesn't offer health care; due to the economy, that was the first thing that had to go," he said.

Servis was connected with Crossover Healthcare Ministry, and doctors were able to prescribe medication to help with his pain, which is now under control.  Then, a few days ago, Crossover informed Servis of some other important news.

"Now, I'll be eligible for Medicaid due to my income level and number of dependents," he said.  "I know its going to help people, but some other people on the other side are going to probably going to be like they are wasting my money; I already pay enough. Yeah I get that but at some point people don't choose to be sick."

Governor speaks out

Speaking to a group of healthcare providers at St. Mary's Hospital Thursday, Governor Ralph Northam (D) thanked legislators on both sides of the aisle for their efforts to expand Medicaid and Virginia doctors for spreading the word about changes to the program.

Northam told the group "no family should be one illness away" from financial ruin, and said Medicaid expansion helps achieve that goal in Virginia.

Within his first six months in office, Northam was able to convince enough Republicans in both the House of Delegates and Senate to vote in favor of Medicaid expansion  under the Affordable Care Act, a move Virginia GOP leaders had resisted for years, citing concerns that federal dollars that pay for the bulk of the program were not certain.

In June, the budget bill Northam signed included a work requirement for able-bodied adults who will receive Medicaid coverage in Virginia , and includes a tax on hospital revenues to help generate funding for Virginia's share of expanding the federal health care coverage program.  Under the ACA, federal tax dollars pay for the majority of the cost of expanding Medicaid to people who who make up to 138% of the federal poverty level.   States are responsible for around 10 percent of the cost of expansion, lawmakers said.

State officials are in the process of applying for a federal waiver to launch the work requirement.