Medicaid expansion a priority for RAM organizers

Mike Still • Jun 28, 2019 at 10:00 PM

WISE — Connie Little spent Friday at the Remote Area Medical clinic telling people about Medicaid.

As Medicaid outreach coordinator for clinic co-organizer the Health Wagon, Little works to let people know that Virginia legislators voted just over a year ago to expand Medicaid coverage to almost 400,000 people ages 19-64.

Many members of that group are people who have depended on the Wise County RAM event for two decades, and Little was spreading the word to anyone walking near her display tent.

“A lot of people think that they aren’t eligible or that it’s a handout, but it’s their right,” Little said.

While the legislators of two nearby states — Tennessee and Kentucky — refused to accept the Obama administration-era offer to fund most of the expansion cost, Little tells anyone who will listen that enrolling in Medicaid will improve their access to many health services that they now wait to get every summer at the Wise County Fairgrounds.

RAM volunteers heard state Sen. Emmett Hanger Jr. on the clinic’s eve say that the expansion has helped enroll 2,500 people in Wise County and 20,000 in far Southwest Virginia as part of an overall 290,000 increase in Medicaid enrollees since the summer of 2018.

Even if a person is not eligible for Medicaid because their income is just above the eligibility cutoff, Little said there are other programs available to take the edge off expenses such as prescription medicine.

Jeff Eastman, CEO of Remote Area Medical — co-organizer of the summer free clinic with the Health Wagon — said that Medicaid enrollment can help many longtime RAM clinic patients get medical care more often than once a year.

Even with expanded Medicaid eligibility in Virginia, Eastman said, many in the southwest region are finding it harder to get specialist care in more rural areas.

“Where RAM goes, we’re finding we’re working in areas with higher rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, higher rates of diabetes, higher rates of infant mortality,” Eastman said. “We’re still seeing a need at RAM.”

Even when working with applicants and finding that they might be ineligible, Little said she’s found that listening goes a long way with people.

“They want someone to talk with them,” Little said. “If we can’t get them in Medicaid, we can find something to help. Pharmacy Connect can help get them free or reduced-cost prescriptions, and even that helps. They want someone to listen, and that means a lot to them.”

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