Your View: We must help Alexandria’s uninsured with health care costs

Your View: We must help Alexandria’s uninsured with health care costs

By City Councilor Tim Lovain, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
There is a widespread misconception that the Affordable Care Act — commonly referred to as Obamacare — basically guaranteed health insurance for all Americans. Sadly, that is not the case, especially here in Virginia.

Obamacare attempted to raise the income eligibility level for Medicaid coverage to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $1,070 per month for an individual and $2,795 for a family of four. But the Supreme Court ruled that states must have the option to accept or reject this higher eligibility level. Thirty-one states have accepted the Medicaid expansion and will receive 100-percent federal Medic- aid funding for three years and 90 percent thereafter.

Virginia is one of the 19 states that have rejected this federal money. 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 only are eligible if their income is less than $10,908 annually for a family of four.

As a result, an estimated 5,500 Alexandrians do not 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 colleagues on city council to increase the city’s assistance to Alexandria Neighborhood Health Services by $102,641, which has enabled them to provide primary care services to an additional 700 uninsured adults with 1,500 health care visits. 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 November 5 from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. at George Washington Middle School. Major partners will include: Alexandria Neighborhood Health Services, 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 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 Alexandria Neighborhood Health Services. It will facilitate — but not substitute — follow-up primary care services.

Ideally, Virginia should accept the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. In the meantime, Alexandria should play a major role in providing health and hope to the city’s uninsured.