Mobilized by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP), faith communities across Virginia are poised to play a key role in signing up the uninsured for Medicaid, now that the program has been expanded to cover 400,000 low-income Virginians.
On November 1, the first day of enrollment under Medicaid expansion, VICPP held five simultaneous press events in key regions to mark the historic moment. In Roanoke, Williamsburg, Harrisonburg, Winchester, and Richmond, VICPP organized the faith community to spread the word that Medicaid eligibility rules have changed. They also called for volunteers to help newly-eligible people with the application process.
In Roanoke, Greene Memorial United Methodist Church plans on taking its involvement a step further and will be a host site for application assister sessions, a key initiative of VICPP’s Health Care Hope campaign.
“We’re asking you to open your doors to not only host information meetings but to also invite applicants to come in and apply,” explained Debbie Brown, Director of Program Ministries at the church during the press event. Hosted by the Salvation Army with the support of the Council of Community Partners, VICPP Advocacy Partner, Brown was joined by representatives of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, Rescue Mission and Senator John Edwards’ Office.
“We have been given a unique opportunity to help others in our community,” said Christine Payne, VICPP’s Health Care Hope Ambassador in Williamsburg. She helped organize an interfaith program with faith leaders and partners in the James River and Hampton Roads regions, noting, “I see us acting as a bridge to connect people to the agencies responsible for implementing our new health care policies.”
Hosted by Rev. Reggie Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church of Williamsburg, the program provided information to volunteers willing to become application assisters. “It just doesn’t stop with having that Medicaid card. We really have to push forward, ensure folks know what it means, take ownership and help them enter the healthcare system so they can continue to improve their health,” said Dr. Mark Downey, Pediatric Associates of Williamsburg.
In Harrisonburg, the city’s Department of Social Services (DSS) has been holding meetings with civic and grassroots groups to educate the community about Medicaid. VICPP Chapter members joined the team to hand out Medicaid information. “It takes a community. We have to do this together,” said VICPP volunteer Diane Bayer.
DSS and VICPP volunteers encouraged people to apply for Medicaid and reassured those who had been denied coverage and were uninsured, that they may now be covered under the expanded program. As one mother held her baby, she shared that her child was covered by Medicaid but she did not qualify for benefits. After Bayer convinced this reluctant woman to reapply, she said, “It made all of us feel that we have done something good.”
Another VICPP volunteer translated the Medicaid application into Spanish and helped a young Latino woman fill out the Medicaid application. VICPP Chapter members said that they planned on taking the training offered by the city’s DSS office to assist people with their paperwork, a critical need for the significant Latino population in the city.
In Winchester, the VICPP chapter had a strong turnout at the press event at the Health Campus. “We made a strong case for signing up for Medicaid as well as reinforced partner links with groups like the NAACP, United Way, and It’s Just Me,” concluded Doug Norell of the Winchester Chapter. “We had a big victory on expanding Medicaid,” he added, “now, we need to make sure expansion is fully implemented.”
In Richmond, VICPP hosted a press conference with an expert panel at CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, a faith-based organization that offers free medical care for uninsured people. “Medicaid funding will help clinics expand and serve more uninsured,” said Jill Hanken, a health attorney for the Virginia Poverty Law Center.
VICPP Director Kim Bobo said non-profits, particularly faith-based programs, and free clinics will play a key role in helping the newly eligible to sing up for Medicaid. Faith communities are mobilizing to spread the word about Medicaid expansion enrollment by knocking on doors, posting notices at places of worship and volunteering to help people enroll. “It puts flesh on the golden rule,” Bobo said. “Love is action.”