WV Medicaid Commissioner Nancy Atkins says expanding the state's Medicaid program has been the most complex project she has worked on in her 10 years with the agency.
For the first time, the program will cover childless adults. The program will also require recipients to pay co-payments for the first time.
"That's a whole new world for [Medicaid recipients], co-pays," Commissioner Adkins said. "But we think it [encourages] some personal responsibly and again we're changing the face of Medicaid so we're moving people towards a more commercial world."
Why is this a big deal? It is a big deal because unrestricted access to preventive and emergency care reduces one's vulnerability to becoming homeless. Poor health can contribute to being homeless, and being homeless can lead to poor health. Limited access to health care can make it worse. That is why the health of homeless people in West Virginia and the United States is worse than that of the general population. Common health problems include mental health problems; substance abuse; bronchitis and pneumonia; and wound and skin infections.
Many homeless women are victims of domestic or sexual abuse. Homeless children have high rates of emotional and behavioral problems, often from having witnessed abuse. These problems do not make for strong and healthy communities. Advocating for health care for all is an essential component of reducing homelessness. It will remain a core value as we advocate on behalf of the homeless and working poor.
We think Gov. Tomblin demonstrated bold and compassionate leadership with the expansion of Medicaid in West Virginia. It is right and good.
Allen is the executive director of Covenant House in Charleston. Perry Bryant, director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, contributed to this commentary.