Connecting Virginians to the Health Coverage They Need

Katie Martin

December 22, 2017 | Health Care

To counter Trump administration efforts to sabotage HealthCare.gov open enrollment, National Partnership staff helped Virginians sign up for health coverage during the (woefully short) open enrollment period.

We volunteered for various personal and professional reasons: the conviction that everyone has the right to affordable health care and that health insurance is a critical means to that end; the desire to resist the administration’s harmful policies; and the welcome opportunity to spend time outside the office, making a difference with colleagues. Regardless of our reasons, we are all glad we took the time and we all walked away even more committed to protecting and expanding access to quality, affordable health care. Here are a few of our takeaways – and calls to action.

Every state that hasn’t done so should expand Medicaid. Despite ongoing attempts to expand Medicaid in Virginia, it has not happened, leaving many people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for subsidized coverage on the health insurance exchange uninsured. Seventeen other states have also failed to expand the program, leaving an estimated 2.5 million adults in the Medicaid “coverage gap.” We met some of these people – many are young immigrant men holding multiple jobs to support their grandparents, parents, siblings, partners and children. It was heartbreaking to have to tell them we could not help them because state legislators have prioritized politics over their families’ health and well-being.

Congress must fully fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Many people we met at enrollment events had children who receive health coverage through CHIP; they have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that even if they couldn’t find an affordable plan for themselves, their children are covered. Congress must fully fund CHIP and protect health care for more than nine million kids and families across the country.

We must keep fighting harmful disparities in health care coverage and access.Many of the people seeking health insurance at the events we joined in Virginia were people of color, reinforcing what research tells us: Disparities in access to affordable, high-quality health care punish people of color. We call on federal and state decision-makers to implement policies that help reduce disparities in access to health care and in health outcomes. At the National Partnership, we will continue pushing for reforms that promote quality, affordable care for everyone, regardless of their gender, neighborhood, education, race, employment, income or caregiving responsibilities.

Lawmakers should support and strengthen, not undermine, the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Health insurance is complicated, and so are people’s lives. We spoke with many people whose jobs have unpredictable schedules and who are caring for multiple family members, each with unique health needs. Getting people connected to the right plan and completing their enrollment required an expert understanding of how health insurance works; they needed trained navigators and certified application counselors. We were blown away by the dedication and patience of the experts with whom we interacted. Thank you, Enroll Virginia! And thank you to the thousands of other volunteers around the country! Shame on the Trump administration for slashing funding for these crucial services. Next year, we plan to “train up” so we can also provide the hands-on help people need to enroll in a HealthCare.gov plan.

The ACA has helped more than 20 million people get health insurance and made it more affordable and comprehensive. There is more work to be done to realize the full benefits of the law, but the ACA’s value is clear when you interact with the people it helps. In Virginia, many people traveled long distances, waited for hours and persevered through cumbersome processes because they understood the importance and value of health insurance – and ultimately, because they need health care. People overcame barriers to show up at enrollment events because they want the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they are not an accident or illness away from bankruptcy.

Health insurance matters, and we’ll keep fighting to make it available to all women and families!

Thank you to Stephanie Glover, Dawn Godbolt, Erin Mackay, Sarah Margulies, Lauren Sogor and Madelynn Taylor for their contributions to this post.

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