Your View: Health and hope, here and now for Alexandria’s low income uninsured

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Your View: Health and hope, here and now for Alexandria’s low income uninsured
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By Richard Merritt and Dan Hawkins, Co-chairs, Alliance for Alexandria’s Uninsured (File photo)

To the editor:
Charles Sumpter’s characterization of the failure of the General Assembly to expand the Medicaid program as a “disgrace” (“Let’s expand Medicaid in Virginia,” December 1) is altogether appropriate.

He is also correct in saying, “Virginia Republicans are playing politics with the lives of residents in Alexandria and around the commonwealth.” For decades, research from the prestigious Institute of Medicine has informed us of a clear association between lack of health insurance and increased risk for premature death. The risk is even higher for those uninsured with a serious chronic health condition.

Nevertheless, over the past three years, pleas like Mr. Sumpter’s for action in Richmond have been ignored or soundly defeated by state lawmakers, and given the out- come of the recent presidential election, the likelihood that Medicaid expansion will even be discussed during the forthcoming 2017 General Assembly session appears to be extremely remote.

We are proud to say that Alexandria — unlike most, if not all, other jurisdictions in Virginia — has not been willing to entrust the health and wellbeing of many of its most vulnerable residents to the remote chance of a change of heart or mind in Richmond.

Late in 2014, then-Mayor Bill Euille wrote, “The Alexandria City Council and I will continue to support the governor’s efforts to get the General Assembly to expand the Medicaid program. How- ever, in the absence of such an agreement … we cannot and will not sit quietly while the General Assembly continues to deny comprehensive health insurance coverage to the neediest among us.”

With unanimous consent from city council, Euille appointed a special advisory panel on the health care needs of the uninsured, and the panel’s report and recommendations — issued in May 2015 — laid the foundation for a grass roots collaboration under the leadership of the newly formed Alliance for Alexandria’s Uninsured to expand access to timely and affordable primary care services to more than 90 percent of non-elderly adult residents who live at or below the federal poverty index — approximately $12,000 for an individual.

Since the May 2015 report, the Alliance has worked with city council and with a host of community- and faith-based partners to:

• Host two one-day free community health fairs for the low-income uninsured of Alexandria.

• Secure additional funds of $102,641 to help Neighborhood Health, the city’s community health center, expand its capacity to provide primary care services to approximately 700 low-income uninsured residents. Most of those funds will support at least two primary care visits a year for those without a medical home or a routine source of care.

As the saying goes, action speaks louder than words. And by these actions, the city and community of Alexandria should take pride in knowing that no other jurisdiction within the commonwealth comes close to the attention and the resources it has devoted — and we hope will continue to devote — to the health and well being of many of its most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged residents, made all the more important by the insensitivity and overly partisan behavior of a handful of lawmakers in Richmond.

The Alliance’s vision statement calls for “bringing health and hope to Alexandria’s low-income uninsured.” It is safe to say that for the immediate and near-term future Richmond will not be the source of much health or hope for the low-income uninsured adults throughout the state, including an estimated 5,500 in Alexandria.

Therefore, we must continue to look inward to the heart and soul of this generous and compassionate community to fortify and sustain the health care safety net so many of our most vulnerable citizens have come to rely on.

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